On Tuesday, June 7th, voters in six states across the country will cast their ballots in support of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. California and New Jersey, the largest states which will vote on Tuesday, will be the focal points of the June 7th contests; taken together, they amount to over 85 percent of the delegates awarded that day.
As in previous primaries, delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis. Though this apportionment does mean that Tuesday’s contests will ultimately have little effect on the battle for pledged delegates, it does not necessarily preclude a significant change in the trajectory of the Democratic race. Strong performances by Mr. Sanders, particularly in California, could convince some superdelegates, who may align themselves with any candidate they choose, to abandon Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. Just how well Mr. Sanders would need to do to attract support from these unbound delegates, however, is unclear. On one hand, most superdelegates are influential party elites or party members who have deep ties with the Democratic Party. For these people, Mr. Sanders’s relatively recent commitment to the party, which he only joined in 2015 after decades of service in the U.S. Senate, is concerning. Many also worry that his brand of progressive politics, though wildly popular among millennial voters and deeply liberal Democrats, could push moderate independent voters away and hand the presidency to Republicans in the general election.
On the other hand, Bernie Sanders has energized the Democratic Party in ways which Hillary Clinton cannot match. He has mobilized a movement of young people which rivals or perhaps even exceeds the strength of the one which put Barack Obama in the White House in 2008 and 2012. And though his more potent flavor of progressivism may be off-putting to some independent voters, his likability more than makes up the difference. In recent general election polling, Mr. Sanders regularly trounces Donald Trump, while Mrs. Clinton has only managed to maintain a slight edge. As far back as January, when several Republican candidates were still in the race, Mr. Sanders has been the only candidate of either party with a positive net favorability rating. The ratings of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, by contrast, are solidly negative. With a big win in California, Bernie Sanders could present a strong case to the superdelegates and pull off an upset, peeling off just enough delegates concerned with Mrs. Clinton’s viability against Mr. Trump to obtain the nomination.
It would take a miracle, however, to obtain this result. The highest priority of the superdelegates is to avoid the perception that they are producing an undemocratic outcome. In 2008, Hillary Clinton held a decisive lead among superdelegates for much of the primary race, but once candidate Obama surpassed her among the pledged delegates—the ones bound by the primary or caucus election outcomes in their respective states—the superdelegates united behind Mr. Obama at the convention. However, to produce a similar outcome, Bernie Sanders will need to make up a yawning delegate gap of over 250 delegates over the course of the seven remaining primary elections. According to Nate Silver, the resident statistical wizard at FiveThirtyEight, accomplishing this feat would require Mr. Sanders, at minimum, to win every remaining state “by roughly 35 percentage points”—or an even larger margin after Mrs. Clinton’s victory in Puerto Rico’s Sunday primary election. Given the Vermont senator’s current standing in the polls, such a result would be nothing short of miraculous.
That being said, a streak of primary wins for Mr. Sanders on Tuesday would preclude Hillary Clinton from clinching the Democratic nomination outright with pledged delegates, assuring that Mr. Sanders has at least some chance—a very slim one, at best—to clinch the nomination at the Democratic convention this July.
But is a comeback possible? Will Bernie win California? Let me take you through my predictions for Tuesday’s primary contests.
Status: Tossup, lean Sanders
The biggest prize on the Democratic primary calendar, California weighs in at a hefty 475 delegates. As such, a strong showing for either candidate would make a real dent in the delegate differential between Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton.
As it stands, however, it does not seem that either candidate is well-positioned for a decisive victory. Hillary Clinton had polled strongly in the Golden State as recently as mid-May, when some polls showed her with nearly a 20-point lead. But Mr. Sanders has spent nearly every waking hour in California over the past few weeks, hitting college campuses across the state to energize his millennial supporters and stumping in heavily African-American precincts in an effort to capture some of Mrs. Clinton’s most reliable base of support. His strong efforts in the state, as well as an unfortunate news week for Mrs. Clinton, have allowed Mr. Sanders to rapidly close the gap with the former secretary of state in California, where the candidates are now in a statistical dead heat.
Though the Vermont senator has not led a single California poll taken this primary season, his intensive ground effort in the state is paying off enough to convince me that he has the edge. The biggest question for Mr. Sanders on Tuesday is whether he can peel off enough of Mrs. Clinton’s strong minority constituency to win, and the data appears to show that he will. The cross-tabs of the highly-regarded Field poll of California voters illustrate that between late May and April, Mr. Sanders’s support among African-American voters increased by nearly 10 percentage points, with much of that growth coming from undecided voters. Among Latino voters, he has held steady, maintaining about two-fifths of the vote, but the percentage of undecided voters has grown, pushing Mrs. Clinton’s numbers down. These changes shdoow that these demographic groups— which Mr. Sanders has struggled to capture in previous primaries—are moving decisively in his favor. In such a tight race, momentum and enthusiasm become highly significant, and both factors play to the Vermont senator’s advantage.
Assuming that he falls within the margin of error of the most optimistic recent polls on election day, Mr. Sanders will likely win California by no more than about three points. A decisive victory—by 8 points or more—would be a surprise.
Likely outcome: Strong Clinton
New Jersey is basically an extension of Mrs. Clinton’s home turf, New York, where she won by double-digits. The most recent poll, taken by CBS News, gives the former secretary of state a nearly 30-point advantage in the Garden State.
Likely outcome: Likely Clinton
Hillary Clinton has historically done well with Hispanics, and this is unlikely to change in New Mexico’s primary, where Hispanics now outnumber non-Hispanic whites. However, the state’s residents are relatively young, which will help Bernie Sanders keep it close.
Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota
Delegates: 21, 20, 18
Likely outcome: Strong Sanders
These states are perfect for Bernie Sanders. All three are home to overwhelmingly white electorates, which have proven to be very favorable to Mr. Sanders throughout this primary season. The Vermont senator has also outperformed Mrs. Clinton in rural areas, which are dominant in all three states.