This article appears in today’s edition of the Morning Star.
Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Wisconsin Democratic Primary this week is being spun by the mainstream media as “too little, too late”. The consensus among pundits is that Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead is so huge that there is simply no way for the democratic socialist senator from Vermont to catch up.
That has been the case for every single one of Sanders’ recent victories, starting with his wins in Idaho and Utah on 22 March. Those two victories, in two small states, went barely noticed even if they were shocking in their scale. In Idaho, Sanders took 78% of the vote and in Utah he won over 79%. His supporters reacted by donating a staggering amount of money online, making it the third month in a row that Sanders has out-raised Clinton. But the consensus among experts was that he didn’t have a chance.
Four days later, Alaska, Washington and Hawaii had their opportunity to vote. Sanders won all three — by even larger margins, including a staggering 81.6% of the vote in Alaska. Still, pundits were saying that he can’t possibly beat Clinton, that her lead is too great. And even while conceding that he won five states in a row, these were mostly caucus states, not primaries, with very few Black and Latino voters, so the Vermont senator had an advantage.
Wisconsin was supposed to be yet another Hillary Clinton “firewall” to stop the Sanders campaign and put an end to the primary fight. According to the last poll released before the vote on Tuesday, Clinton was projected to win by 1%. This was a steep drop for Clinton, as polls a year ago were showing her easily winning the state, with a lead of sometimes 50% or more.
In the end, Sanders won nearly 57% of the vote in Wisconsin, dealing Clinton a crushing defeat. Yet again the polls and pundits were proven wrong.
On Saturday, voters again go to the polls in the sparsely-populated western state of Wyoming. Again, Sanders is expected to win and the Clinton campaign has already prepared its excuses (the state is heavily white, it’s a caucus rather a primary, etc). And the media spin is again predicable: it will echo the Clinton campaign line.
The big prize is New York on 19 April, a state that will send 247 delegates to the Democratic National Convention that meets in Philadelphia in July. Polls are showing Clinton in the lead, but Sanders is starting to catch up.
The Clinton campaign is right about one thing: Sanders is trailing the former Secretary of State by a large number of delegates. Clinton’s lead over Sanders is shrinking dramatically, day by day, but it’s still a lead. She had a 300+ delegate lead over Sanders just a few weeks ago, but this has already shrunk by a third.
Can Sanders make up the difference and come to the Democratic convention in July with more pledged delegates? Yes, but it will be difficult. In fact, it is likely that we won’t know who is actually the front-runner until 8 June, the morning after the California and other late primaries, when 694 delegates are at stake.
Much is being made of Clinton’s lead among the so-called “super-delegates”, party officials who get to vote at the convention, but the precedent in 2008 showed that they were prepared to desert Clinton in droves once it appeared that Obama had won more delegates in the primaries and caucuses.
In the case of Bernie Sanders, there’s another good reason to expect those party leaders to rethink their support for Clinton. All polls are now showing Sanders is a much stronger candidate in the general election against any Republic nominee. The most recent poll shows Sanders with a 17 point lead over Trump which if it translated into reality would mean a Democratic victory also in Congress on a scale not seen for more than fifty years.
The last time that happened was in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater, resulting in the most progressive congress the country had seen since the New Deal. The result was the passage of civil rights laws including the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and even an early attempt at a “war on poverty”.
Since Bernie Sanders first announced his candidacy a year ago, mainstream media have insisted that he cannot win. That message is becoming harder to spin now that he wins state after state, eroding Clinton’s delegate lead day by day. The Democratic primaries were set up in such a way to ensure that the most conservative candidate would win. The Southern states, which the Republicans are likely to win in November anyway, got to vote first and were given undue influence. Clinton won handily in those states. But the moment the campaign moved North, even to ethnically diverse states like Michigan, Sanders began to win and win big.
His message that America has a rigged economy, that only the wealthy benefit, that politics is in the hands of billionaires, and so on has resonated in a big way with young people, working class people and independent voters. The candidate himself has been scrupulously honest about his chances from the beginning, acknowledging when he does well and what his chances really are.
Now he’s saying, if I win New York, I win the nomination — and the presidency. He may well be right.