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Eye On Candidates
March 28, 2016

Despite A Good Weekend for Sanders, Difficult Path Lies Ahead

There isn’t much doubt that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a good weekend, winning all three Democratic caucuses by wide margins. The question seems to be, is there still a path for him to win enough delegates to overcome the substantial lead the frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently holds? According to Bloomberg Politics, things get much tougher from Sanders from this point forward:

Sanders Second-Half Comeback Plans Running Into Tougher Primary Calendar

After routing Hillary Clinton in three western-state Democratic caucuses, Bernie Sanders still faces daunting delegate math and a road ahead dominated by big-state primaries that have been the weakest link in his campaign….

…[P]ast contests have demonstrated that while momentum keeps donations flowing from devoted supporters, it doesn't necessarily lead to votes, victories, or delegates. After Sanders' upset victory in Michigan on March 8, he raised more than $5 million in a day, but went on to lose all five contests the following Tuesday. And despite significantly closing the gap with Clinton in national polls, Sanders has struggled to translate that into winning in bigger states with larger delegate hauls….

“It's not about momentum, it's about math to get the nomination,” said Clinton deputy press secretary Jesse Ferguson. 

That makes the next two contests, Wisconsin and New York, high stakes for Sanders. To threaten Clinton’s grip on the Democratic nomination—she leads him by 268 pledged delegates—Sanders needs to win both states and win them by substantial margins. 

The analysts at think they’ve figured out what the biggest obstacle to Sanders is at this point – very few caucuses are left on the calendar:

Bernie Sanders won a trifecta of states on Saturday. He put up big victories in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, after carrying Idaho and Utah earlier in the week. Sanders beat his delegate targets by a solid margin in all five of these states and closed Hillary Clinton’s pledged delegate lead to just north of 225. In doing so, Sanders highlighted an ongoing Clinton weakness: caucuses. All five of Sanders’s wins this week came in caucuses. The problem for the Sanders campaign is that there are only two caucuses left on the Democratic primary calendar.

Sanders has outperformed his targets in 11 states. Just three of those states held primaries (Illinois, Oklahoma and Vermont), and one of those three (Vermont) is Sanders’s home state. The other eight were caucuses. Six of Sanders’s best states by this measure were in the West (all the caucuses this week and Colorado). In fact, Iowa and Nevada are the only caucuses so far in which Clinton beat our delegate targets by more than one delegate, which may have something to do with all the organizing effort the Clinton campaign put into those states….

So why is Sanders doing better in caucuses than primaries? The most obvious answer is that caucuses reward candidates with diehard supporters. There are often speeches, and sometimes multiple rounds of voting at caucuses. Typically, you have to stick around for a while to vote. That takes devotion, and if you’ve ever met a Sanders fan, you’ll know that many would climb over hot coals to vote for him….

Sanders had a strong week, and this has been a crazy year in politics. But there’s nothing in the recent results to suggest that the overall trajectory of the Democratic race has changed. Clinton was and is a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination.

Politico seems to offer a similarly dour assessment of Sanders’ situation, although they also map out a path for him:

If Sanders is going to scramble the delegate math, it begins with Wisconsin next week. Here’s Sanders’ tight-rope path:


The third month of the nominating process begins with the Wisconsin primary on April 5, when 86 pledged delegates are at stake….

Even a narrow win for Sanders there would allow him to maintain his momentum through the rest of the month’s contests. But mathematically, a narrow Sanders victory there would only have a limited impact on the delegate deficit.

After two weeks off, the race moves to the second-largest state left on the calendar, New York, with 247 pledged delegates….

April closes with a quintet of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic primaries on April 26: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Pennsylvania (189 pledged delegates) and Maryland (95 pledged delegates) are the night’s biggest prizes – and both appear unkind to Sanders at the moment….


Indiana kicks off the month on May 3. The state went narrowly for Clinton during her protracted 2008 battle with Barack Obama. While there’s no public polling to gauge the candidates’ chances at Indiana’s 83 pledged delegates, there are a few curious cross-currents at play: Going back to the 2008 exit polls, more than four-in-five voters were white, which portends well for Sanders. But there were fewer younger voters in Indiana eight years ago than in other states, which could be a good sign for Clinton.

The following week could be a good one for Sanders, though few delegates are at stake: Democrats in West Virginia (29 pledged delegates) cast their ballots on May 10….

Sanders could also run strong on May 17, when voters in Kentucky and Oregon get their say. Both are closed primary states, but nearly nine-in-10 voters in both states were white in the 2008 primaries, according to exit polls.


A strong Sanders run through May would set up a massive clash on June 7, with primaries in five states: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

California is the most significant, with 475 pledged delegates at stake. Sanders has some catching up to do there: A Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week showed Clinton with a 7-point lead, 48 percent to 41 percent….

New Jersey (126 pledged delegates) also looms large, but a Rutgers-Eagleton poll last month gave Clinton a 23-point lead there.

There’s little doubt that this weekend’s strong performance by Sanders was what he needed to have even a possible path to the nomination. But absent some dramatic, game-changing event in the next few weeks, just about everything has to break Sanders way for him to climb back into serious contention.