Bernie Sanders won the Wyoming Democratic caucus on Saturday by a double-digit margin – 56 percent to 44 percent – over Hillary Clinton. That is seven contests in a row and eight of nine. And now the campaign heads into the New York hothouse with the primary on April 19. Here are five brief reflections on the state of the race:
A storm is gathering around unelected superdelegates.
Despite winning by double digits in Wyoming, Sanders only got a split of pledged delegates – seven to seven. And all four of Wyoming’s superdelegates currently support Clinton, giving her 11 of 18 delegates from a state Sanders won by double digits.
The Clinton campaign’s answer to this is that Wyoming is small; only 7,000 people caucused, so forget about it. But the Democratic Party will face real trouble if superdelegates give Clinton the nomination over Sanders, particularly if he wins the majority of the pledged delegates.
Sanders is still surging.
Is that possible? Sanders is still surging. Clinton’s pledged delegate lead is down to 219 (the Sanders campaign says 214). In comparison, Ted Cruz trails Donald Trump in the Republican presidential race by 226, yet pundits increasingly assume a contested Republican convention.
Nationally, Sanders has gone from trailing Clinton by 24 percentage points on January 1 to even (edging her by 1 or 2 points in the mostrecent national polls of registered Democrats). He’s closed in California from 57 percentage points behind Clinton a year ago in the Field poll of registered Democrats to just six points now (47 percent Clinton to 41 percent Sanders). And he leads her by double digits among independents who can vote in the Democratic primary in California. His small donors have raised more than her campaign for three months running. He’s picking up support among Latino voters, and now wins a majority of the votes of young people across lines of race and gender.
Sanders has now won 17 contests, from Alaska to Kansas to New Hampshire. He’s basically split five more – Iowa, Nevada, Massachusetts, Illinois and Missouri. Clinton has won 14 plus the five close races, a total of 19 with 11 of the victories in the South. (For a comprehensive look go here).
New York is a big lift.
Sanders faces a formidable challenge in New York, where Clinton ran statewide and won twice as U.S. senator. He trails her by double digits in recent polls, and the margin hasn’t moved much since his Wisconsin victory.
Sanders is winning young people, and Bill Clinton’s recent angry defense of his wrong-headed crime and welfare bills and dismissal of Black Lives Matter activists as “afraid of the truth” will surely will add to that. (He “almost” apologized later.) But Hillary Clinton sustains her large lead among seniors and they are more likely to vote. Sanders leads Clinton by double digits among independents, but New York prohibits them from voting in party primaries. Worse, for those excited by Sanders, New York requires registering as a Democrat six months before the election occurs, the earliest change of party deadline in America. Independents eager to register as Democrats to vote for Sanders would have had to do so last October, when most weren’t even thinking about the presidential race.
Candidates will be AWOL in New York.
Sanders has made the dubious commitment to fly to Rome in the middle of the New York primary battle to speak at the Vatican, even though he may or may not meet with the Pope who may be out of the country. He may be hoping for divine intervention.
For more secular motives, Clinton will leave the state for a similar amount of time to travel to California for the $353,000-per-couple fundraiser with George Clooney. The contrast is revealing, although the Clinton event will no doubt be closed to the press.
Sanders keeps driving the debate.
The Sanders challenge to our neoliberal, bipartisan consensus keeps gaining traction: Tuition-free college, breaking up the banks, ending corporate trade and tax deals, $15 minimum wage, national health care, progressive taxes to pay for major public investment, serious action on climate change, including a tax on carbon, a ban on fracking plus investment in R&D and alternative energy to capture the green markets of the future, dialing down our interventionist follies and more.
Clinton has turned against the president’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that she once described as a “gold standard.” She agrees that Dodd-Frank already gives regulators the power to break up the big banks. She’s hailed New York’s agreement on a $15 minimum wage that she described as too extreme for the nation. (With New York and California, over 40 percent of the nation’s workers are now on the path to $15.) She’s suggested she’ll regulate fracking to a trickle.
No matter what happens in New York, Sanders will drive his message across the country, clearly mobilizing and educating a new generation. Whether he wins the nomination or not, he’ll carry that agenda into the Democratic convention and fight to make it central to the platform. The Republican convention will feature a battle of increasingly unpopular personalities. The Democratic convention will feature a battle over ideas and direction. This race has gone on for months and it has only just begun.