April 6, 2016
In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ latest win, it’s time to review his place in the Democratic nomination world. A day ago he was expected to win the Badger State. He won. A day ago, Hillary Clinton had an almost mathematically insurmountable lead. She still does.
Has anything changed since yesterday?
Yes. It’s one more step towards a seemingly impossible scenario. That matters. Bernie has nothing to lose. Nobody beyond the most committed Berner thinks he’s got a real shot at the nomination. But it’s harder to close than you think. Just ask the Golden State Warriors who were undefeated at home all season before losing to the Boston Celtics (somewhat forgivable) and Minnesota Timberwolves (not.)
There’s pressure, burnout, fatigue, angst, yada, yada, yada. Much like the Warriors, Hillary is anxious to end the regular season and get to the playoffs. The minute he lost Nevada, Bernie became an extreme underdog. But thanks to scads of $27 donations, he can pay to play.
While Hillary jets to fundraisers, Bernie campaigns. The issues in the campaign are his. Just this week, the disclosure of gigantic tax evading accounts in Panama is roiling the world. The prime minister of Iceland resigned. China is blocking internet access to stories, as many connected Chinese had accounts.
The combination of Hillary at a fat cat dinner, while not releasing the Goldman Sachs speech transcripts, while offshore accounts are in the news is not favorable to the presumptive nominee. Especially when Bernie is increasingly willing to highlight these items.
She hasn’t really slipped up yet. But warning signs are mounting. Her frustration with being portrayed as in the pocket of special interests is leading to uncomfortable dialogue. Implying younger voters are being scammed by Sanders into misunderstanding her record is fraught with danger.
There’s a line there somewhere. If she crosses it, the Sanders campaign will start talking about the Clinton Foundation. They don’t want to. In order to win the nomination, they’ll require a majority of super delegate votes. Those are hard to come by when people feel you’ve sold out the party.
On the other hand, it’s without precedent for a serious candidate to pass up such a clear line of attack. Odds are very good a few of those listed in the Panama Papers have made donations to or otherwise participated with the foundation.
Perhaps the conversation never moves this way, at least not until fall. But Ted Cruz and Donald Trump both have strong motives for moving eyes and ears in this direction. So far, Republicans have found themselves too busy in their internecine battles to target her than much.
At some point this will change. Both Trump and Cruz want to show voters and delegates they can win in November. Attacking Clinton is a good place to start. Both would prefer as drawn out a Democratic nomination process as possible.
Bernie had to win Wisconsin to keep this going. He did. The margin indicates he made some progress and still has some work to do. He was close, but slightly short of Barack Obama’s 2008 result. The difference was with African American voters in Milwaukee County.
Aside from that exception, they were almost exactly even, with a slight edge to Sanders. On top of his results on March 26, we are now in a contest where Bernie has reached parity. That’s not enough. Hillary has a lead. But he went from a deficit to even. Now he just needs to go from even to ahead.
Several recent polls have shown the candidates roughly even nationally. Some still show Hillary ahead, but Bernie now leads once in a while too. The Wisconsin result was in line with a scenario where they are roughly even overall. It’s the best position he’s found himself in yet.
When Nevada voted, Hillary was ahead nationally. Bernie needed the win to create momentum and put her on the defensive to help him make up the gap. When that didn’t happen, she began racking up delegates. Now, after six weeks of effort, he’s even. Unfortunately his margin for error has evaporated with time.
He needs to move from even to a few points up by the time New York votes. If he manages this, through a combination of additional exposure, GOP attacks on Clinton, a rattled Hillary, puerile sounding Clinton campaign officials, narrative, whatever, he’ll win the Empire State.
She’s yet to lose when she really needed to win. Hillary and her campaign are consistently clutch so far, not chokers. They won Nevada. They won Illinois and Missouri. All of those were close. Particularly in Illinois, Bernie closed the gap late. But she hung on and maintained the narrative of inevitability.
A loss in New York and that ends. Inevitable candidates don’t lose their home state. Hillary is campaigning as a local, passing up the chance to claim she’s not a New Yorker. If she survives, it was a good move, perhaps the crucial difference.
If she fails, her electability is called into question. The improving position of Cruz is good for Bernie too. Some Democrats have more confidence in Hillary against Trump. They worry he would tear Bernie down. They think she’s tougher, that there’s little he can say about her that isn’t already known.
They like the odds of a woman running against a candidate with an extreme gender gap among moderates and Independents. Cruz is another matter. He’s viewed as almost as far to the right as Bernie is to the left.
Both progressives and conservatives are willing to take their chances with that fight. Instead of worrying about what Trump would do to Sanders or Clinton to Cruz, they’d figure it was about ideology. Most of us think people would agree with us in a fair fight.
A new poll from Quinnipiac shows Bernie within 6 in Pennsylvania. They do tend to survey more favorably than others, but he beat their number in Wisconsin, along with all the others.
A victory in New York would close the gap. So would general improvement in his position between now and the vote on April 26. That date is Hillary’s big firewall, the equivalent of South Carolina several weeks back, but without the huge polling edge.
Whatever the earned delegate count is, whatever the super delegates are saying now, if Bernie wins out (or damn close), they can’t nominate Hillary. There is plenty of precedent for the candidate who got more votes not getting nominated or winning a general election.
There’s no precedent for dropping 25 of 27 contests and getting picked. The Clinton campaign can talk about how she has 2 million more votes all they want, but you can’t keep losing.
Between now and New York, Wyoming will give Bernie 80% or so in their caucus. The networks won’t cover it much. Hillary’s team and others will dismiss it as a small turnout event with few delegates at stake, with only white people involved.
All true. But how often do winning candidates get electorally eviscerated like this? It shows tremendous weakness. If Bernie is within 6 in PA, he’s likely within shouting distance in Maryland.
They vote on the 26th too. There is a big Senate primary on the Democratic side. Two House members looking to move up. One white, one African American. A loss there would devastate Hillary’s argument.
There is an intense focus on Baltimore-area African American voters. Turnout will be high. If Bernie wins PA, and a couple of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware, he still has momentum.
If he somehow wins Maryland, which would require improvement from his current position, she’s in extreme trouble.
So, Hillary is still the favorite. Bernie still has work to do. But he’s one step closer to making things pretty, pretty, pretty interesting.