On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in Oregon by a ten-point margin, and the Kentucky contest was a virtual tie, with Hillary winning by a couple thousand votes but the state delegate count being split almost evenly.
The total delegate count stands at 1,767 for Hillary, 1,488 for Bernie. When Hillary officially gets the win in Kentucky she’ll get 1 more delegate, and if results hold in Oregon she’ll get 3 more; Bernie will earn 6 more. Likely totals will soon be 1,768 to 1,494.
This does not include superdelegates, who do not come into play until the national convention; Hillary has 524 superdelegates who plan to vote for her at the convention, Bernie has 40. There are 712 superdelegates in all. Unlike state delegates, which are awarded based on how the people voted, superdelegates can vote for whomever they wish.
There are now two scenarios that would allow Bernie Sanders to make the most epic comeback in American political history.
SCENARIO 1: BERNIE ABSOLUTELY DOMINATES THE FINAL 9 CONTESTS
And I mean dominates. No more virtual ties. No more splitting delegates. There are 781 delegates up for grabs in the remaining 9 contests. The largest prizes are California (475), New Jersey (126), and Puerto Rico (60). Bernie Sanders would need 528 of these 781 delegates to have a 1-point lead over Hillary Clinton.
He needs to win 67% of everything. This is extraordinarily unlikely — it would take nothing short of a miracle.
The superdelegates could still side with Hillary, of course, but this would give Bernie the strongest chance of convincing them not to.
SCENARIO 2: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY PANICS OVER DONALD TRUMP
Seth Abramson of The Huffington Post posited last week that even if Bernie does not pass Hillary in the state delegate count, the superdelegates, looking at past and predicted voting patterns, might flock to Bernie.
He writes that Hillary almost refused to concede to Barack Obama in 2008, hoping the superdelegates might overrule the popular vote and delegate count that favored him and instead side with her, but eventually decided she didn’t have much of a case to convince them to: “Obama had kicked the hell out of her in the latter half of the election season, winning 16 of the final 25 states.”
He writes that if Bernie wins the remaining contests, which is actually quite plausible, he would have a case for superdelegate support (keep in mind this was written just before Oregon and Kentucky, so Bernie has already lost one “remaining contest”); by June 7, a sweep would mean
Sanders has won 19 of the final 25 state primaries and caucuses (not a typo); Sanders is within a few hundred thousand votes of Clinton in the popular vote; Sanders has won 54 percent of the pledged delegates since Super Tuesday; and Sanders is in a dead heat with Clinton in national polling.
In other words, Bernie could look like just as strong a candidate as Clinton, regardless of her lead in the delegates. Then add to that the ample data suggesting Bernie could best defeat Donald Trump in the general election:
Sanders has dramatically higher favorable ratings than Clinton, despite months of attacks from his Democratic opponent and Trump and GOP super-PACs generally laying off both Sanders and Clinton; Sanders beats Donald Trump nationally by much more than does Clinton (12 points, as opposed to 6 for Clinton, in an average of all national polls); Sanders beats Donald Trump in every battleground state by more than does Clinton; and Sanders beats Trump by 22 points among independents, while Clinton loses independents to Trump by 2 points…
The idea that Clinton is in a dead heat with Trump in the three most important battleground states at a time when Trump is the most unpopular major-party candidate in American history is horrifying to Democrats. How horrifying it is cannot be overstated; along with recent polling showing Clinton tied nationally with Trump, and the fact that Hillary’s unfavorables are already rising while Trump’s are already falling, and the fact that the Republican Party is uniting dramatically behind Trump precisely because Clinton looks to be the likely Democratic nominee, the fact that Hillary is already struggling in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania against an absolute buffoon of an opponent is causing Democrats to worry that she actually can’t win.
This could be adequately described as a nightmare for democracy.
Hillary receiving the most state delegates but the superdelegates handing Bernie the nomination would thrill Bernie supporters, but it would be the precise thing, the very assault on democracy, that they (and Sanders) have ranted against this entire election season (calls for the abolition of the superdelegate system are already having a positive effect). Should (or would) Bernie Sanders take advantage of an undemocratic system, one of many obstacles erected by the Democratic Party to stop him and grassroots candidates like him?
Regardless, this scenario seems unlikely. One might argue Hillary has such strong allies in the DNC and among the superdelegates (her husband is one of them) that they would stick with her regardless of any poll. Further, superdelegates, since their creation in 1984, have never decided the outcome of the Democratic nomination process, and doing so would tear the Democratic Party apart.
Then again, deciding the outcome is precisely what superdelegates were designed to do. Abramson writes:
Super-delegates exist for only one purpose: to overturn, if necessary, the popular-vote and delegate-count results.
Super-delegates would be meaningless if their only purpose were to validate the primary and caucus results, which is why that consideration had absolutely nothing to do with their creation. When super-delegates were created in 1984, it was in fact to avoid a repeat of what had almost happened in 1980: a candidate with no shot at winning the general election almost becoming the popular-vote and pledged-delegate winner. It may seem counter-intuitive to some now, but the Democratic Party in 1984 wanted a mechanism available to vote down the Party’s prospective nominee — the popular-vote and pledged-delegate winner — if that person couldn’t be elected in the November general election.