Notes from the Primaries: A boost for Sanders, but not a game-changer

The trajectory of the Democratic race hasn't changed, despite Sanders landslides


The unpredictable 2016 race gave us some new twists and turns last week as Bernie Sanders won six of seven contests by shockingly wide margins.

In Washington State, the breakdown was 73/27, in Hawaii 70/30, in Idaho 78/21, in Utah 79/20 and among Democrats Abroad 69/31. Most strikingly, in Alaska he claimed 82 per cent of the vote to Clinton’s 18.

As many of these states were small and did not award many delegates, the essential trajectory of the race hasn’t changed – Clinton still holds a commanding lead. To date she has won 56 per cent of the delegates allocated through voting, and retains a strong lead over Sanders in most national polls.

But these convincing wins give Sanders and his team a powerful rationale to soldier on through what will be a busy April, with primaries in Wisconsin (5 April), Wyoming (9 April), New York (19 April) and, on 26 April, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The nature of the April schedule is going to be very consequential to both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns. Sanders has done far better on days when fewer people were voting, using the power of his campaign/message to make significant gains — think Michigan at the beginning of March, or these last round of states.

This mitigates against the natural name ID advantage that Clinton has wielded effectively, particularly on the two Super Tuesdays. The first three April states are one on one contests, which have historically played to Sander’s advantage. New York, however, is a closed primary (no independents), and the Clinton brand remains awfully strong in the Big Apple.

But the final batch of states on 26 April may indeed be Bernie’s last stand. He has not performed well on these big Tuesdays, and if Clinton can come close to replicating her previous Super Tuesday performances it could end the race once and for all.

Alternatively, if Bernie can surprise in Wisconsin and New York, 26 April could be a day of enormous opportunity for the spirited Sanders effort.

Given Bernie’s need for name ID in these large contests in late April, it should be no surprise now that the two campaigns have now begun to squabble about the previously agreed upon April debate.

Debates matter in American politics, and one should not underestimate the power of debates to help insurgents gain recognition and support. A far superior GOP debate schedule has yielded 186m viewers, and helped power a telegenic insurgent, Trump, into a commanding lead.

On the Democratic side, a late and poorly designed debate approach has yielded just 66m viewers, denying the Democrats’ plucky insurgent national air time that could have made a difference for him, particularly in those Super Tuesday states where he just did not have the time or money to compete in so many states simultaneously.

So watch this week for news on this new round of debate over debates, and be sure to see our report on the debate audiences so far.

As for Trump, it is my belief he is going to win the Republican nomination. I will spend more time on this next week, but at this point I just don’t see how Trump isn’t the GOP nominee.

Our Creaky Democracy

We’ve seen it all these last few months – no paper ballots in Iowa, preventing a recount in an historically close election; five hour waits for voting, and far too many people leaving lines because they couldn’t wait any more; voters denied the ability to vote due to new draconian Voter ID laws being implemented for the first time; and the absurdity of ‘caucuses,’ which guarantee a very low turnout even in a Presidential campaign.

We are long overdue for a big national conversation about how to update our democracy for a new century. The US must be an exemplar for the very best election practices, and we have a lot of work to do to get there in the years ahead.

Simon Rosenberg is the founder of the think tank NDN/NPI. In the run up to the US election Left Foot Forward will be reposting his weekly analysis of the campaign trail as a UK exclusive. You can find previous columns here


Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.