Plenty of campaign watchers have been saying that Bernie Sanders’ chances in the Democratic Primary process are nearing zero (including, ahem, me). But polling data in upcoming states suggest that reports of Sanders primary campaign demise may have been exaggerated.
First, let’s take a look at the delegate math as it stands right now. Clinton still has a lead. She has won 1,243 pledged delegates and currently has the support of 469 “superdelegates”—party insiders who can vote for whomever they want on the convention floor and can change their allegiance at any time—giving her a total of 1,712 delegates. Sanders has won 980 pledged delegates and has the support of 31 superdelegates, coming to a total of 1,011 delegates. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination, and there are 2,042 delegates still up for grabs.
The next big delegate contest comes on Tuesday, April 5, in Wisconsin. The latest polls show Sanders leading in the Cheesehead State, though only barely. The 86 delegates will be awarded proportionately, as is the case in all Democratic primary contests.
On April 19, New Yorkers will cast their primary votes. Though Clinton served as a senator from New York for eight years, Sanders has roots there as well. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, and he’s starting to make a push in the Empire State, bringing out 15,000 people for a rally in The Bronx on Thursday. In a poll from early March, Clinton had a punishing lead of nearly 50%. In a more recent poll, though, that lead had shrunk to 12%. Though it’s still an uphill battle, it seems entirely possible that Sanders will win New York or at least put the state’s race in a virtual draw.
That could offer the opening the Sanders campaign has been waiting for. Momentum in political campaigns may largely be a myth, but it does affect the coverage of the race, which can, in turn, affect voter sentiment.
Sanders’ deficit in Pennsylvania has been trimmed from 30 points to 25, and a win in New York could help him there. Then there is the granddaddy of them all: the California primary, with 475 delegates in play. This vote will take place on the last day of voting, June 7. Sanders is down by an average of 9 points there right now. If he performs well in New York and is able to build momentum, he could end up taking the majority of delegates in the Golden State. Depending on how he does in the preceding primaries, California could push him ahead of Clinton in terms of pledged delegates.
Some of this may require Sanders to change the way he campaigns. Politico wrote this week that he may need to tone down his aspirational rhetoric just a touch, showing a bit of the pragmatism that he’s historically displayed during his political career; the kind of realistic approach to governance that Clinton has campaigned on.
Sanders still faces an uphill battle. Irish betting site Paddy Power is still giving Clinton 1/18 odds at capturing the nomination, while Sanders sits at 8/1. But the path to a Sanders victory does in fact exist. And recent polls have suggested that he may perform better than Clinton in general elections against both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
So, even as most eyes are focused on a possible brokered convention among the Republicans, the Democrats should brace themselves for an undecided nomination contest until the very end of the primary contests, or perhaps afterward with the help of the superdelegates.