The Presidential Race: The West Weighs in

Robert Borosage

Bernie Sanders is ignored by the media, dismissed by the pundits and the president, but he keeps on rising. Donald Trump continues to outrage, generating well-deserved condemnation in the media, opposition of panicked Republican poobahs and a barrage of negative ads from deep pocket superPACs, but he keeps extending his lead. This campaign is a long way from over.

On a day haunted by the terror in Brussels, voters flooded to the polls and caucuses in Arizona, Idaho and Utah. Hillary Clinton won Arizona handily, buoyed again by her continued edge among seniors and people of color. But Sanders gained in the delegate count by swamping her in the Idaho and Utah caucuses, generating recorded turnouts that overwhelmed caucus sites. The press will discount his victories as expected and his delegate gains as insufficient, but what’s clear is that Sanders continues to generate growing excitement and support on the trail. The press says his only hope is to win by large margins in the remaining states. Well, in Idaho and Utah, he did just that.

The Sanders campaign raised more money than Clinton in February. Again the great bulk of his came from small donors – he has now more than 2 million of them. Clinton’s fundraising continued to depend primarily on big donors who are maxing out. Sanders’ passionate supporters are clearly ready to fuel his challenge through the convention.

Sanders continues to draw the biggest crowds of the election, Donald Trump’s claims not withstanding. And Sanders continues to rise in the polls. The most recent CNN/ORC poll in mid-March showed Sanders closing to 51-44 percent among registered Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, substantially better than that poll’s late February measure (55-38 percent Clinton).

Americans continue to express rising doubts about Clinton. In the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a disturbing 52 percent of voters hold negative views towards her (only 38 percent favorable). Those are unprecedented negatives exceeded only by those of Donald Trump (58 percent unfavorable). Trump and Clinton have the highest unfavorables since CBS began asking the question in 1984. This isn’t just sexism. In March of 2008, against Barack Obama, her rating was a far better 39 favorable-41 unfavorable.

Sanders continues to run better than Clinton against any of the remaining Republican contenders. These results are understandably discounted, but they would be trumpeted if they showed Clinton faring better. One of Clinton’s strongest assets in the race has been the belief that she was far more electable. These numbers begin to call that into question.

On Republican side, so-called “establishment” leaders from Romney to Rubio to Jeb! have swallowed hard and called for supporting Ted Cruz to stop Trump. Big money donors are spending millions attacking Trump. But the billionaire keeps on moving. Tuesday night, he won Arizona easily. He lost big in Utah to Cruz, but captured 60 percent of the delegates available on the night. The anti-Trump movement keeps building energy, but without making clear progress among Republican voters. In polls, Trump now garners the support of 47 percent of Republicans, showing little loss of momentum. The only relatively sane Republican contender, John Kasich, once more gained zero delegates on the night, enjoying only the pleasure of relegating Trump to third place in Utah.

The Democratic race, contrary to the punditry, will be competitive to the end. Sanders continues to generate extraordinary support among young voters. Clinton sustains her margins among the elderly and among people of color. Sanders must gain among the latter if he is to win the nomination.

Bill Clinton may help. While Hillary Clinton has presented herself as Barack Obama’s proud successor to consolidate support among African-Americans, Bill Clinton has clearly been smarting as she’s been forced to repudiate significant parts of his checkered legacy (financial deregulation, mass incarceration, corporate trade deals, although not, strikingly, welfare repeal). So this week, scorning those who would “litigate the past,” he touted his wife as a change agent, the one most prepared to overcome “the awful legacy of the last eight years.” Whoops. Bill and Hillary are no doubt eager to compare his record with Obama’s to resuscitate his reputation and to show that “we know how to get things done with Republicans.” But not yet. The campaign rushed to “correct” the Clinton remarks, suggesting that he was referring to Republican obstruction, not Obama’s leadership.

The Republican horror show will continue. Establishment Republicans have somehow convinced themselves that rallying around a wingnut zealot, Ted Cruz, who yesterday called on the government “to patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods, is preferable to allowing a bloviating bully, Donald Trump, to rouse their own base against them. Thus far they’ve had little success, for Trump is simply offering a bare-knuckled version of their own dog-whistle politics. Like Caliban, he sneers: “You taught me language; and my profit on it is, I know how to curse.”

Sanders’ rise in the Democratic race continues. He has come a remarkably long way, exceeding all expectations. He has long odds against him, but much of the country still hasn’t voted, and he’s still gaining as he goes.

Get updates in your inbox