Can Bernie Sanders Pull Off a Major Upset in California?
Policy + Politics

Can Bernie Sanders Pull Off a Major Upset in California?


Shortly after the polls close in New Jersey around 8 p.m. next Tuesday, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton will surpass the 2,383 delegates she needs to claim the mantle of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Regardless of how Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his advisers spin it, Clinton will have amassed far more than the minimum number of delegates required to be nominated in Philadelphia in July.

Related: Clinton’s Strategy From Now On: Baiting the Trump Bull

Even so, Sanders, the democratic socialist who repeatedly has defied the odds, insists he will carry his “revolutionary campaign” to the floor of the convention. There he will try to shape the party’s platform and rules to his liking and attempt to persuade hundreds of superdelegates to change their allegiance from Clinton to Sanders.

And if he manages to pull off a narrow victory over Clinton next Tuesday in delegate rich California – the grand prize of the 2016 primary season – then Sanders will be further emboldened as he argues his case that he would be the stronger Democratic candidate to take on Donald Trump in the general election.

Clinton at one time enjoyed a substantial margin of support in the Golden State, and just this week she garnered the endorsement of California’s highly popular governor, Jerry Brown, and a major liberal environmental group, the NRDC Action Fund.

But Sanders has gone all out in the past week or two and has cut deeply into Clinton’s lead. Now a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released late Wednesday shows the California race a dead heat, with Clinton barely ahead, 49 percent to 47 percent.

Related: Why a Third-Party Run Could Hurt Clinton More Than Trump

Clinton’s two-point lead is well within the poll’s margin of error, and suggests that the race is highly volatile and could go either way. Until recently, Real Clear Politics had Clinton leading Sanders in California by an average of 9.7 percentage points, but her advantage has been shrinking.

California Polls

In the Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist poll, Clinton continues to lead her Democratic rival nearly two-to-one among likely voters 45 and older, while attracting more than half of self-identified Democrats, women, blacks and whites. She also leads Sanders among those Democrats who have already voted, 58 percent to 41 percent.

But Sanders – who has vowed to break up the big banks on Wall Street, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide free college tuition in public schools and create a national health care program for all Americans -- holds a huge lead over first-time primary participants, independents, younger voters, men and Latinos.

While Gov. Brown and other leading Democrats have begun arguing that it is time for the party to begin to pull together behind Clinton in preparation for a bruising and uncertain fall campaign against a formidable GOP nominee, Sanders vowed once again on Wednesday to continue his presidential campaign well beyond next week’s California primary, where 475 delegates will be at stake.

“We have absolutely the financial resources that we need to run a very, very strong campaign here in California and in the other states and in D.C. and Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands and throughout the rest of the campaign,” Sanders said at a rally.

Related: Sanders Battles Barney Frank as Dems' Family Brawl Rolls On

He delighted in noting that Clinton had to cut short her campaigning in New Jersey to return to California with her husband for more campaigning amid signs that she was running into trouble. “I wonder why Secretary Clinton and her husband, Bill, are back in California?” Sanders said sarcastically, “I thought we had lost and it was all over. But I guess Secretary Clinton is maybe looking at some polling that would suggest otherwise.”

While she and her advisers clearly are worried about the possibility of a humiliating defeat in California next week, Clinton is continuing to focus her attacks on Trump. Campaigning Wednesday in Newark, New Jersey, Clinton pounced on Trump’s mounting legal and public relations problems connected to his now defunct real estate school, Trump University.

In some of her toughest rhetoric yet, Clinton called the billionaire real estate businessman a “fraud” who is “trying to scam America the way he scammed all those people at Trump U.”

Later on Thursday, Clinton will deliver a major foreign policy address in San Diego. She is expected to declare Trump “unfit” to be commander in chief and offer a scathing assessment of Trump’s policies. Those include temporarily barring Muslims from entering this country, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, arresting and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, and allowing Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons to defend themselves.