SparkNotes Blog

Can Bernie Win the Democratic Nomination?

Good news for those who are #feelingthebern: Bernie Sanders smoked Hillary Clinton in Saturday’s primary, carrying Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska by more than 40 percent in each state. It was an impressive showing, as foretold by the little birdie that blessed Bernie heading into Saturday.


Now the bad news: it’s likely not going to do much to help him secure the nomination.

Say what?! How can he win by such huge percentages, be endorsed by literal winged doves, and still not secure a significant portion of the delegates to secure the nomination? It’s complicated.

Narrative Tension

Remember how when you were watching the LOTR trilogy, you thought: these elves are super magical, why don’t they just defeat Sauron? Instead they are blowing town at a casual stroll while the magic-less hobbits do the hard yards.

That’s a bit how it is with our bird whisperer, Senator Sanders. He is full of whimsy and hope, but his forest-hued tights and bow are no match for the polished machinery of the Clinton campaign, which has been at this much longer.

There are two very important factors working against Bernie:

  1. Democrats allocate delegates proportionally, meaning that for every big win Bernie has, Hillary still will add a few delegates to her count.
  2. Hillary has a lead of 260 pledged delegates right now. That’s an impressive, and almost unmatchable, lead. Just to illustrate how impressive it is, it’s significantly more than Obama had at this point in the contest in 2008.

So Bernie has his work cut out for him.

If Bernie hopes to come anywhere near Hillary’s lead in delegates, even just to tie it, he’s going to have to do a few things…

  1. Win big in states with a large number of delegates that have racially diverse electorates. We’re talking 58 percent or more in every state. He’s only won one racially diverse state with a large number of delegates, Michigan, and by a very small margin (delegate-wise it was essentially a tie).
  2. Persuade superdelegates that they should back the candidate that won their home state. Doing this would split the superdelegate count and give Bernie an edge.
  3. Prove that he can win in states with primaries and not just caucuses. Caucus wins depends on supporter turnout, a huge strength for Bernie. But there are only two more caucuses (Wyoming and North Dakota), and both of them have very few delegates (and are overwhelmingly white, which favors Clinton).

It appears that Bernie’s camp is recognizing this. Once a reviled insider tactic, Bernie’s camp is now embracing a superdelegate strategy, with Bernie appearing on numerous talk shows explaining that after the next few wins, superdelegates will be more free to support him.

He’s also calling for a debate before the New York contest, a state that holds special ties for both can states (Bernie is from Brooklyn originally, and Hillary represented the state in the U.S. Senate and currently resides in Westchester County, outside New York City). Hillary’s camp is disregarding his request, asserting that Hillary won’t debate Bernie until his campaign stops going negative.

Polls show that Hillary has an edge in New York (where she lives) and Pennsylvania, but not by much. If Bernie is able to split the vote, he’ll add some weight to his superdelegate argument. But if things go like they did in Ohio and Arizona, and she wins by a substantial amount, it’s pretty much game over for Team Bernie.

But wait, there’s always California! California votes towards the end of primary season and carries the most delegates, plus it’s full of birdsong and revolutionaries and people who play the washtub bass. Both Bernie and Hillary have been campaigning there heavily, even holding lavish Hollywood fundraisers. Polls show Hillary has the edge, largely because of the minority vote and the years of support the Clinton’s have had there (ever since Bill’s win in 1992), but her lead is in the single digits. If things go poorly for Hillary in New York and Pennsylvania, keep an eye out for California as being the ultimate decider.

Themes, Motifs, & Symbols

Figurative Trophies

All this said, Bernie has already kind of won this election. Not actually, but spiritually. If you think that on that fateful day in 2015 when he shooed the magpies off his lectern in an empty public park in Burlington and announced his run for president that he thought he had any chance of actually winning—Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who has dedicated his career to fighting the establishment machinery that blesses and annoints presidents—you are missing the point of his historic campaign. Sanders has changed the dialogue, and pulled likely future president Hillary Clinton further to the left, engaging on the issues dear to his heart. Regardless of the outcome of primary season, Bernie’s impact on this race looms large, and will impact the general election in enormous ways.


No matter whether he gets the nomination, it’s largely Bernie’s platform Hillary will be forced to run on.

If that’s not a successful revolution, I don’t know what is.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Follow me at @HAlanScott.