Sanders needs big-time wins to catch Clinton

Lisa Lerer and Catherine Lucey
Associated Press

Washington — Bernie Sanders must win 66 percent of the remaining delegates through June to erase Hillary Clinton’s lead following a disappointing performance Tuesday, a herculean task requiring landslide-sized victories in big states and winning over skeptical superdelegates.

So far, he’s been unable to do either.

Clinton’s victories in four of five states Tuesday — the race in Missouri remained too close to call — left her with 1,132 pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses in The Associated Press’ count. Sanders has 818.

She picked up twice the number of delegates than Sanders in Florida — the biggest prize of the night with 214 delegates — and stymied Sanders’ efforts to make up ground by also winning North Carolina, Ohio and Illinois, stopping his momentum from a narrow win last week in Michigan. All the Democratic contests award delegates in proportion to the share of the vote, rather than winner-take-all, so even the loser gets some.

In Missouri, where the vote margin remained tight, both candidates were on track to split the delegates evenly.

Clinton’s lead is even bigger when including superdelegates.

When including those party officials, Clinton’s lead is 1,599 to 844, giving her two-thirds of the number she needs to clinch the nomination.

Another 2,322, both pledged and superdelegates, remain to be awarded.

“Delegate math is a heartbreaker,” said veteran Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s primary campaign in 2004. “Even with a number of state wins, it doesn’t matter if he can’t make up delegates. He’ll have to start winning over superdelegates, but he’s got some convincing to do.”

Superdelegates are the Democratic establishment — party officials, governors and members of Congress who can back any candidate they wish. Together, they make up nearly one-third of the 2,383 delegates needed to win, and their support for Clinton has been strong.

Of the 493 who endorsed a candidate so far, just 26 — or five percent — said they would back Sanders, according to AP’s survey. There are 221 who have yet to commit to a candidate.

Superdelegates are free to change allegiances — many did so in 2008 to Barack Obama after giving early support to Clinton.

That came after a string of primary and caucus wins by Obama that gave him an overall lead in the pledged delegate count and convinced them he could win in a general election.

In AP’s survey last month, many superdelegates expressed concern that Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, might not be able to withstand opposition from a GOP nominee. Among the uncommitted, most said they needed to learn more about Sanders before making a decision.

“I like Bernie Sanders, but …they’re going to tar him with being a socialist,” said Indiana superdelegate Shari Mellin, who is backing Clinton. “That word has come to mean — because of the way Republicans have exploited it — terrible things in this country.”

Never before have superdelegates backed a candidate who had fewer pledged delegates than his or her opponent.

Halfway through the 2016 primary season, Sanders has won nine states to Clinton’s 16. He’s heading into a batch of caucus contests in the West that he believes will be friendly to him, and sees the Wisconsin primary as favorable terrain.

Those seven states collectively offer 298 delegates; he trails Clinton in total pledged delegates by more than that.

It still could be a long spring for Clinton.

She needs more than 700 delegates to clinch the nomination. Just over 1,000 delegates will be at stake from late March through the end of April, a pot that may not be big enough for her to wrap up the nomination if Sanders is able to split contests with her.

“Our campaign will continue to compete in every state and will work to amass as many pledged delegates as possible everywhere,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in a memo Wednesday. He pledged to have staff on the ground in every state voting through April.

Sanders strategist Tad Devine said late Tuesday night the Vermont senator’s campaign feels “very good about the calendar ahead.” A call to Devine on Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned.