So here we are. It all comes down to Calif—hey, wait. No, it doesn’t all come down to California.
That’s how Bernie Sanders has been framing next Tuesday, and the media have completely bought into it. Watching cable news, you’d think that if Bernie wins California, Jerry Garcia’s going to rise from his grave and the Dead will reunite and Sanders will be the nominee.
California’s big, and California’s razor close, and certainly it makes a difference whether Sanders or Hillary Clinton wins it. But not that big a difference. A whopping total of 475 delegates are at stake, but if it’s as close as the polls suggest, the winner stands to net a mere 20 or 30 delegates. Using this excellent delegate calculator, let’s go through all the remaining races and then circle back to the big prize, bearing in mind that right now, among pledged delegates, it’s Clinton up by 268, 1,769 to 1,501.
Saturday June 4, Virgin Islands. Seven delegates are at stake. The U.S.V.I. are three-quarters African American and just 15 percent white. So say Clinton wins it 75-25. She’ll take five delegates to Sanders’s two, netting three.
Sunday, June 5, Puerto Rico. I’ve been banging on about Puerto Rico being important because it has 60 delegates, which is a pretty big prize. Let’s say Clinton wins that one by, oh, 65-35, which doesn’t seem crazy. She’ll win the delegate contest 39-21, netting 18.
Then come all the contests on Tuesday, June 7:
South Dakota has 20 delegates. Say Sanders wins 60-40. He’ll win the delegate race 12-8, netting four.
North Dakota has 18 delegates. Give Sanders another 60-40 win here; again, he’ll win 11-7, netting another four.
Montana has 21 delegates. Give Sanders a third win of about that size. That’s 13-8 in terms of delegates, so he nets five more.
New Mexico is a little more interesting. It has 34 delegates. A poll came out earlier this week showing Clinton with a 26-point lead. I can’t quite believe that, but about half the turnout is expected to be Latino, so give Clinton New Mexico by 14 or 15 and she wins the delegate race 20-14, netting six.
Now we come to New Jersey and its 126 delegates. Not much polling. There was one in early April that showed Clinton +9, but early April was a long time ago. An early May survey had her +28, and a mid-May one +17. Sanders certainly hasn’t been competing there much. Let’s be if anything a little conservative and say Clinton wins it roughly 58-42. That translates into delegate totals of 73-53, so she’ll pick up 20 delegates.
So if these totals are about right, Clinton will win another 170 delegates, Sanders another 136. That would her at 1,939 and him at 1,637. Which brings us to California.
California’s 475 pledged delegates are awarded in a pretty complicated way (here’s a PDF of the whole plan, if you’re interested). Most of them, 317, are awarded within congressional districts based on who won that district. There are 53 of those. In 2008, according to Bob Mulholland, the veteran California Democratic insider and a Clinton supporter this year, she won 42 of them. “But that’s an eight-year-old race,” as he noted to me, so who knows if it means anything for this year. Another little wrinkle is that all congressional districts aren’t created equal—some have as many as nine delegates, others as few as four. Just 105 delegates are awarded on the basis of the total statewide vote, and then there are 53 elected officials and party operatives who are pledged according to the results. That’s your 475. Then there are 73 superdelegates, from Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer on down.
But put them aside. This is about pledged delegates, right, because that’s what’s up for grabs when people vote. This brings us to one of the great obfuscations of this primary season.
You always read that a candidate needs 2,383 delegates to clinch the nomination. And that is true if you include superdelegates. Hang with me here, this matters. There are 4,051 pledged delegates and 713 supers. Add those two numbers together, then divide that by two, then add one (i.e., 50 percent plus one). That gets you to 2,383.
But if you’re talking pledged delegates only, 50 percent plus one is 2,026. You never see that number, and I guess I understand why—2,383 is the number, officially. But 2,026 is a majority of pledged delegates—you know, the ones you win by persuading voters to pull the lever with your name on it. I’ve been mystified as to why the Clinton people aren’t pushing more awareness of the 2,026 number. If the situation were reversed, we can be sure that Jeff Weaver would be all over cable denouncing the mere existence of 2,383, that strutting harlot of a number!
So it’s next Tuesday night in California. The state-by-state delegate scenario that I played out above has occurred. Clinton is at 1,939, needing just 87 delegates out of California to hit 2,026. Do you know how badly Sanders would have to beat her to limit her to 86 delegates? No, you don’t. But I do. He’d have to win by 82 to 18 percent. That would net Bernie 309 delegates out of California and would get him to 2,026, while she’d have 2,025.
That isn’t going to happen. What’s going to happen, even if Sanders wins the state by, say, three or four points, is that he will net about 20 delegates, but she will still have won around 225 or 230, meaning she will exceed 2,026 by about 150 delegates, and Sanders will be short of the magic number by about the same amount. And then there’ll be a little cherry placed on the sundae the following Tuesday when the District of Columbia votes and Clinton wins big and nets another 10 or so delegates.
So that’s the unfuzzy math. It has nothing at all to do with the superdelegates Sanders and Weaver have spent months traducing. It’s pledged delegates, earned in the voting booth (or at the caucus hall). Superdelegates will never, ever, ever undo such an outcome, and they never, ever, ever should. In a season when Sanders people have alleged a rigged system and sometimes outright theft, that would be the only actual case of theft in this season—for superdelegates to tell the voters sorry, you made the wrong choice when you chose your candidate, who is (incidentally) the first woman nominee in our party’s history.
And then California Democrats will meet after the fact at the Long Beach Hyatt Regency on June 19 to formalize everything, just like that recent meeting in Nevada. But let’s not even go there.