On Tuesday night, Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders capped a six-state winning streak with a double-digit victory in the Wisconsin Democratic primary over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Though Mrs. Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to receive the Democratic Party nomination due to her substantial lead among pledged delegates and party superdelegates, Mr. Sanders’s winning streak underscores her failure to connect with millennial voters, white-collar liberals, and working-class white Democratic voters outside of the Clinton-friendly South.
The exit polls from Wisconsin’s primary illustrate a number of enduring troubles for the Clinton campaign. In particular, Mrs. Clinton has made little progress in assuring Democratic voters of her strength of character and her commitment to progressive values. Voters on Tuesday night who identified honesty and trustworthiness as the candidate qualities that mattered most to them—a third of the electorate—sided with Mr. Sanders by a massive 67-point margin. And among primary voters who saw Mrs. Clinton as being insufficiently liberal, almost nine-in-ten cast their votes for Bernie Sanders. This group also comprised about a third of Tuesday’s primary electorate.
However, Hillary Clinton’s enduring strength among minorities has yet to diminish. According to The Atlantic, the former secretary of state has captured “over three-fourths” of African-American votes and has retained a significant lead among Hispanics throughout the primary contests thus far. This state of affairs does not bode well for Mr. Sanders, who needs to make major inroads with these groups if he is to have any hope of staging an upset in racially-diverse California—the biggest delegate prize on the primary calendar—in early June.
But for now, with a battery of northeastern primaries approaching, Bernie Sanders has what will perhaps be his only opportunity to reorder the race and overcome Mrs. Clinton’s significant delegate lead. If Mr. Sanders can channel his momentum into a dramatic upset victory in April 19th’s primary in New York, a state which Hillary Clinton represented as a U.S. Senator for several years, the race could transform overnight. And with the media narrative surrounding the New York primary reaching a fever pitch—with one article characterizing the election there as “the most important moment of the campaign so far”—winning New York has become a do-or-die proposition for the Sanders campaign.
Mr. Sanders appears to recognize the urgent need for a strong performance in New York and has shaped his efforts accordingly. He has sharpened his attacks upon his opponent, calling into question Secy. Clinton’s reliance upon super PACs and “special-interest money” for campaign support, as well as her vote in favor of the Iraq War during her time in the Senate. Mr. Sanders has also benefited from the recent revelation of the Panama Papers, which brought to light the same sort of unseemly financial maneuvering which the presidential candidate has so ardently criticized throughout his campaign.
Yet the path forward for Mr. Sanders will not be easy. The polling available in New York so far shows the Vermont senator lagging Hillary Clinton by double-digit margins, and FiveThirtyEight’s primary forecast of the state gives Mr. Sanders a mere five percent chance of winning the state. Unless he can siphon a significant share of Mrs. Clinton’s strong support among minority voters when New York votes on April 19th, victory will not be possible for him there, and any hopes of a comeback will be dashed. The Clinton campaign has also redoubled its efforts in the state, scheduling a battery of events throughout western New York and in New York City, where the former secretary of state hopes to run up the score against Mr. Sanders with the help of the city’s sizable black and Latino population, and launching an upstate advertising blitz to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments during her time in the Senate.
Even if Bernie Sanders manages to defeat Secy. Clinton on her home turf, his path to the nomination remain extremely narrow. According to a statistical projection by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, in order to surpass Mrs. Clinton among pledged delegates, Mr. Sanders will need to win the remaining states by an average margin of 13 percentage points. In California, he would need a 15-point victory and in New York, a four-point win. Unless the race drastically changes, these numbers are fantastical. As Mr. Silver notes, his projections amount to the “path-of-least-implausibility” for Mr. Sanders, rather than a realistic depiction of how the Democratic nomination race is likely to unfold.
For Mr. Sanders’s supporters and his detractors, New York’s primary marks a critical inflection point in the Democratic nomination race. With a miraculous victory, the Vermont senator will continue his ascent and keep the possibility of a late comeback on the table. A loss, however, will likely mean the end of his presidential ambitions.