Fascinatingly, Bernie Sanders does not seem near to backing down in spite of the odds.
The Vermont senator’s insurgent campaign seems on its last legs. With a clear delegate lead, Hillary Clinton has turned her focus to the general election and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Sanders’ fundraising has dropped off and he has shed hundreds of staffers. Even President Barack Obama is noting the realities of the delegate math.
But in Atlantic City on Monday, Sanders urged his supporters to keep fighting.
“If we can win here in New Jersey and win in California and win in some of the other states and if we can win a majority of the pledged delegates, we’re going to go into Philadelphia and the Democratic convention and expect to come out with the Democratic nomination,” Sanders said.
That’s a lot of ifs. Sanders is trailing Clinton by nearly 300 pledged delegates — those won in primaries and caucuses. Clinton also holds a commanding lead among superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders who can support the candidate of their choice. That leaves her only 155 delegates short of the 2,383 she needs to secure the nomination.
Sanders clings to the hope he can erase the gap with pledged delegates by winning a string of victories, starting with West Virginia on Tuesday, Kentucky and Oregon on May 17 and California and New Jersey on June 7.
But the White House looks increasingly out of reach and many Democrats are left with questions about what Sanders wants — which he and his wife do not want to entertain.
“The media constantly goes to the end game,” said Jane Sanders, a top adviser to her husband. “The journey is as important as the destination. We expect that the people’s voices will be heard and represented at the Democratic convention.”
While Clinton hasn’t called on Sanders to exit the race, his insistence that a path exists is frustrating to her supporters and campaign aides. The White House has said it won’t get publicly involved until Sanders formally ends his bid, keeping three of the party’s most powerful spokespeople — Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — largely on the bench.
To be sure, Sanders continues to draw large enthusiastic crowds to his rallies. But his fundraising has dipped and his advertising has dropped off a cliff, with only about $525,000 in ads planned for the giant state of California and $63,000 each in West Virginia and Oregon, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.
Jane Sanders disputed that the campaign was running out of options. She said superdelegates could switch their commitments, suggesting they should consider the results in their home states. She also argued that Sanders has shown momentum and polls well against Trump.
“There have been a lot of surprises,” Jane Sanders said. “We saw a Michigan miracle and Indiana no one expected.”
Asked about the mathematical odds and what comes next, she expressed frustration with the media, saying “there was never once a point when anyone said he could possibly win,” even after he won eight states in a row. “For one full year,” she said of the perception, “it’s been consistent that he doesn’t have a chance.”
With a clear Republican opponent in sight, Clinton has called on Democrats to unite around her candidacy to help take on Trump. Campaigning recently in California, she argued that her advantage over Sanders far outpaces the deficit she faced against Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries.
In northern Virginia on Monday, Clinton made only passing reference to her primary opponent at a campaign event, telling a group of working parents that they both have college affordability plans, though “obviously, I think my plan is better.”
She quickly pivoted: “But at least we both have plans!” she said, implying that Trump did not.
Just how the Democratic rivals reach detente is not yet clear, partly because Bernie Sanders has not fully said what he is looking for. He is arguing for a say in the party platform at the convention, but that is far from resolved.
“We’re still competing for the nomination,” said senior adviser Tad Devine. “Having said that, it’s really important that the views of the millions of people who have supported him be expressed.”
Sanders put the Democratic National Committee on notice Friday, warning it not to stack the convention’s standing committees with Clinton supporters. Sanders said if the party is going to be unified in the fall, it can’t have a convention at which the views of millions of people are “unrepresented” in the committee membership.