The gas tank of the people’s revolution may be running low, but Indiana, birthplace of Eugene Victor Debs, turned out to be a badly needed little refueling stop for Bernie Sanders, who won the Democratic primary Tuesday night over Hillary Clinton.
It was in some respects a surprising outcome, and a confusing one. Sanders was up by 12 in the exit polls. Yet Clinton led in every public poll coming in, and she enjoyed a 6.8 percent lead in the RCP averages. Polls haven’t been that far off since Michigan. Granted they were much farther off in Michigan, but this is still pretty extreme.
What explains it? Working theory: The Clinton campaign decided the state didn’t matter and made no effort there. Sanders spent a lot on TV, she spent nothing. At the end of last week, she was appearing in other upcoming states. Then, her campaign seems to have noticed that despite her best efforts to ignore the place, she was still leading in the polls, and it threw together a hasty rally in Indianapolis Sunday. But people of a state can tell when they’re being written off, and the written-off partisans tend to stay home.
It doesn’t matter in the long run mathematically, of course. Sanders will pick up maybe nine delegates Tuesday night, still leaving him close to 300 behind her in pledged delegates.
But I think it was a mistake on Team Clinton’s part to skip this one. If they’d won Indiana, the door would have been slammed shut. Sanders couldn’t talk any more of that surrealist gibberish about why superdelegates should back the guy who’s 3 million votes behind, like he was spouting Sunday at that unhinged press conference. Now that will go on for another month. That, plus another month’s worth of Goldman Sachs mentions. Great.
The Clinton campaign is saving up its resources for the big states to come, but I still think it made a mistake not trying to nail the Hoosier State down. Nobody’s going to care in October who won Indiana. Still, a race that is mathematically over could also have been emotionally and psychically over.
But on we go. Let’s look at what’s ahead. In the next month we’ve got Guam, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. That’s up through June 5. Then, on June 7: The Dakotas, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey, and the big one, California. Oh, then the District of Columbia on June 14, which Clinton will win with 65 percent. The biggest delegate prizes: California (475), New Jersey (126), Oregon (61), and—somewhat surprisingly—Puerto Rico (60). Three of those four (except Oregon) would seem to favor Clinton.
And here’s an important point. I just noticed not long ago that we’ve been laboring under a misimpression with respect to the Democratic delegate count. We use 2,393, the supposed Democratic “magic number,” as analogous to 1,237, the Republican magic number. But as Michael Cohen pointed out in The Boston Globe, the 2,383 figure includes the 715 superdelegates. That is: There are 4,051 pledged delegates up for grabs on the Democratic side. Add the 715 supers and you get 4,766. Half plus one of 4,766 is 2,383.
But we should be talking about only pledged delegates, because that’s the number that’s actually analogous to the GOP 1,237 figure (the GOP has no superdelegates). So subtract out the supers. That makes the Democratic threshold 2,026—half plus one of 4,051. The candidate who gets to 2,026 will hit the mark that will likely activate the superdelegates to throw in. If history is a guide, the jump from 2,026 to 2,383 will happen in a matter of days, as superdelegates line up to validate the will of the voters, which they’ve done in every election since they’ve existed.
So 2,026 is the number to watch. After Indiana, Clinton leads more or less (I’m writing before the full results are in) 1,700 to 1,415. Give Sanders West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, and the Dakotas. But give Clinton California, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Those, sans New Mexico, are big prizes. If she wins California, she stands to win around 250 delegates there alone, which after her proportional delegate counts in the preceding states, even assuming she loses them all except Puerto Rico, could well put her over 2,026. That’s not even counting New Jersey, which seems an obvious Clinton state.
So Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee. And it doesn’t really matter if a candidate limps into the nomination. Barack Obama did in 2008. And he’s been the president for eight years. But as of Tuesday night, Donald Trump is the GOP nominee. She should have wanted to match that.
It is probably unlikely that this next month of Sanders’s rhetorical excess will matter one way or the other come fall. But if it does, she just might look back at Tuesday night and think, ‘Well, I should have tried harder to shut it down then.’ And she could have.