June 4, 2016
Using a bit of mathematical sleight of hand, Bernie Sanders on Saturday insisted that Hillary Clinton would not clinch the Democratic presidential nomination in coming days and that he planned to fight for it through the summer convention.
Sanders’ effort, described at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles, was the political equivalent of playing the refs. In the waning days of the voting season, the Vermont senator is trying to prevent the race being called — and the loss of momentum that would mean for his campaign.
He also sought to apply pressure to television networks to avoid calling Clinton the victor when the polls close in New Jersey on Tuesday — despite the strong possibility that she will win there, albeit under calculations with which Sanders disagrees.
Sanders is also trying to prevent a circumstance under which the California turnout is depressed by a nomination call after New Jersey’s polls close, a full three hours before voting ceases in California.
Sanders’ arguments rest on his objections to superdelegates, who are party officials and leaders who can choose which candidate to back. Other delegates, the so-called pledged delegates, are tied to the actual vote.
But Sanders also is applying some tricky math.
He said that by the end of voting, no candidate will have the backing of the requisite 2,383 delegates, or a majority of those available. He then cited figures showing his and Clinton’s numbers among pledged delegates.
But the majority number he cited included superdelegates. By including them in the target figure, but not in the standings so far, he effectively raised the bar in a way detrimental to Clinton.
According to a Los Angeles Times count, Clinton now has 2,316 delegates, including 1,769 pledged delegates. Sanders has 1,547 delegates, including 1,501 pledged delegates.
The bottom line for Sanders: At least for now he plans to fight for the support of delegates until the convention officially nominates a standard-bearer for the fall.
“At the end of the nominating process no candidate will have enough pledged delegates to call the campaign a victory. They will be dependent upon superdelegates,” Sanders said. “In other words, the Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention.”
For those who call Clinton the presumptive nominee before July’s meeting in Philadelphia, he had this message: “You are in error. You’re wrong.”
Asked what that suggests for party unity, Sanders said unity rested on the Democratic Party welcoming all of his supporters. He did not indicate that he felt any responsibility to try to persuade his backers to eventually support Clinton as the party nominee.
He had particularly sharp words for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who leads the national party. Sanders, who has raised money for her Democratic primary rival, archly noted that he wanted the Democratic Party to embrace his supporters “who have never attended” one of her fundraisers.
“Party unity is a big word,” he said, adding of his supporters: “I want them to feel welcome. That is unity.”
Clinton leads the Democratic race by any measure — the number of votes cast, the number of pledged delegates and the number of superdelegates.
To the latter group, Sanders is insisting that he would have the best chance of defeating Donald Trump in the general election. But that argument is undercut by the fact that he has not overcome his primary season opponent, Clinton.
The party’s proportional delegate allocation rules mean that, barring victories by margins not seen in this election, he will not catch up to Clinton in pledged delegates.
Superdelegates have had the option of switching from Clinton to Sanders at any time — and the fact that they have not, except minimally, suggests they are not buying his argument that he would be the most potent November candidate.
Sanders said Saturday that he had seen “a trickle” of support recently from superdelegates. But he said he still has time to make his case.
“We have time to do this,” he said, “and let me repeat for the umpteenth time: We understand that we have a steep climb.”
But, he added, “We don’t know what the world will look like in five weeks’ time.”
Sanders also acknowledged that, while he hopes to change the nominating system in the future, the rules he’s operating under were set before his candidacy.
“I don’t use the word ‘rigged,'” he said. “I knew what I was getting into.”