Election 2020

Hillary Clinton Just Clinched the Democratic Nomination, But Sanders Fights On

Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop April 5, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Hillary Clinton may be the second most disliked presidential candidate in modern polling, but on Monday night, she officially secured enough delegates and superdelegates to claim the Democratic nomination, almost exactly eight years after her concession speech to Barack Obama in 2008. Nevertheless, Bernie Sanders is still fighting on and the primaries Tuesday evening still matter.

Two months ago, Republicans were looking at a contested convention — when multiple candidates go into their party’s national convention with a chance at taking the crown. Despite Donald Trump’s lead in the delegate count, candidates like Ted Cruz were working to keep him below the magic number of 1,237 — 50 percent plus one. If they had, the convention would have been a fascinating floor battle. Alas, it was not to be.

Now the Republican bad dream is the Democrats’ terrifying reality. Hillary Clinton won the 2,383 delegate majority to be considered the presumptive nominee, but almost 24 percent of her delegates are superdelegates — party officials who are free to back whichever candidate they want. While a vast majority of these delegates have pledged to support Clinton, their pledges could be revoked at any time.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has been arguing that superdelegates should follow the will of the voters in their states, rather than choosing for themselves. In a statement to NBC News, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs emphasized that the race is not over.

“Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” Briggs wrote. “She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then.” The spokesman explained that the campaign’s “job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.”

Next Page: Does this mean the race is really up for grabs tonight?

While the superdelegates can switch their votes, there is no precedent for such a large number to change their minds. In the 2008 Democratic race, no more than about 30 delegates switched support from Clinton to then-Senator Barack Obama. Despite this defection, Obama still led among pledged delegates when superdelegates were not counted. Clinton still leads by nearly 300 pledged delegates, even without the support of free party leaders.

Nevertheless, the Democratic rules committee could theoretically alter the way the convention runs, and with Sanders outpolling Clinton in hypothetical match-ups against Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, his campaign makes the argument that superdelegates should back the candidate most likely to win the race.

Partially due to the strength of this argument, Clinton’s campaign emphasized the primaries on Tuesday in a response to the Associated Press calling the race for her. As she noted, California, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, New Jersey, and South Dakota vote in the Democratic primaries Tuesday.

But, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed out, even if Sanders wins the massive California primary by 20 points, Clinton will still lead him by almost 200 elected delegates and about 2 million votes. Even worse for the Bernie bros, Clinton currently leads in California — by a narrow 5 points.

Perhaps this explains why California Representative Nancy Pelosi endorsed Clinton early Tuesday morning. Many Sanders supporters are angry at her for doing this, but she may just be following her state’s lead.

Sanders will need to surprise big in many states this evening, and even then it may just be for naught, unless he can convince superdelegates to rethink their positions. Even so, the contested convention which threatened the GOP months ago is now looming over the Democrats. What a race!