I spent much of the early stages of the Democratic Primary blogging about how Sanders was a much less formidable opponent for Hilary Clinton than much of the media coverage suggested. I confidently predicted that he had basically no chance of winning the nomination and would be lucky to win anywhere other than than small states in New England with lots of white liberals.
As it turned out he has got lucky. He’s now bested Clinton in 9 states, the majority of them outside New England. Equally importantly, he’s expanded his base to include the low-income white voters who were resolute Clinton supporters in 2008. I clearly underestimated him and I think for that reason I stopped writing posts dismissing his chances.
But the time to begin again has arrived. I do this as a service to my Sanders supporting friends.* Every good result he achieves seems to send them rushing to Facebook to announce that this showed the momentum was with Sanders and that the only reason the media…sorry the corporate media…couldn’t see that his victory was a realistic prospect was their willful blindness. Are they really saying that he’s doomed when he’s winning Maine by a 30% margin or triumphing in big swing states like Michigan?
To which I reply: indeed I am. Far from the gaining momentum, he’s fallen behind and is running out of ground over which to make up the distance.
He may have won 9 states but Clinton has won 19. And while he has won in big states and won by big margins, he’s never won by a big margin in a big state. Clinton has done so repeatedly. Clinton’s lead amongst Texan delegates is almost three times larger than the total number of delegates from Maine. That means Clinton is currently is not only ahead, she’s ahead by a lot – like 300 delegates worth.
And because a chunk of states have voted already, things are actually worse for Sanders than you many would assume. He not only needs to start winning more delegates than Clinton, he needs win enough to erase the delegate lead she’s amassed in the states that have already voted. Vox’s Andrew Prokop sized up the mountain he has to climb thus:
Here’s how rough the math is for Sanders going forward: to win a majority in pledged delegates, he needs to win 58 percent of those remaining.
That might not sound so bad. But because all the Democratic contests allot their delegates proportionally, it’s actually punishingly difficult.
It means Sanders has to beat Clinton by around 58 percent to 42 percent pretty muchconstantly. And that’s just incredibly implausible given what’s happened so far, and especially given what’s happened tonight.
Even unexpected wins for Sanders in big states like California, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey — already unlikely — wouldn’t be enough. Sanders has to win those states by enormous margins.
And there are still a great deal of delegates left in states and territories with large nonwhite populations — states with demographics similar to those that have favored Clinton so far. These include Maryland, Arizona, New Mexico, and even Puerto Rico (which Clinton won in a blowout in 2008).
Which is not to say it’s impossible. Stranger things have happened. Like say Donald Trump being the Republican frontrunner. And even if Sanders doesn’t win, he will have palpably altered the terms of the debate within the Democratic Party. And given that his young supporters are likely to be voting for a long time to come, they may well reshape the party in his image.
But back here in the present, Sanders is clearly not beating Clinton, nor is he gaining on her, his chances are fading fast.
I underestimated the man but I wasn’t wrong about him. Part of the reason I was so sure in my initial assessment was that I had a huge margin of error. Sanders could substantially outperform my expectations and still lose. That’s what we are seeing come to pass.
*What you don’t believe me? You dreadful cynic!