The Bernie Sanders campaign had a great night, winning one-sided victories in the Idaho and Utah caucuses.
The Hillary Clinton campaign had a great night, winning the Arizona primary by a substantial margin.
The overall result: a strong positive for Clinton.
In spite of Bernie’s yoooge leads in the caucuses, Clinton comes out of Tuesday night with a slight net gain in delegates*. And that’s the only thing that matters. As good an outcome as it was for Bernie, he needs to do a lot better — and he can’t afford any Arizona-style setbacks.
*True when I wrote this. No longer the case; Bernie picked up a few delegates overall. My point remains the same: Bernie’s running out of time.
Tad Devine, Bernie’s campaign adviser, is fond of a football analogy:
“We’re at half-time here and we agree that we’re behind but we also think we’re going to win this game and we’re going to finish ahead and we see a path to get there.”
That’s exactly what he needs to be saying. But there’s a fundamental flaw in the analogy. If a football team is behind at halftime, it can score a bunch of touchdowns while shutting down the opponent. It rarely happens, but it’s possible.
In the Democratic presidential nominating process, you can’t do that. Delegates are awarded proportionally. Which means every time Bernie scores a touchdown, Hillary gets four, five, or six points. That makes her current lead all but insurmountable.
Clinton has a sizeable lead in pledged delegates — not counting the superdelegates. (She also has a sizeable lead in the raw-vote total so far, which blows a big hole in Bernie’s claim to be the People’s Choice, but that’s a post for another day.) She won that lead by dominating Sanders in a whole bunch of states. To catch up, Bernie has to do the same — according to Vermont Pundit Emeritus Eric Davis, he’d have to win the remaining contests by margins of 60 percent or so. All of the remaining contests.
His only shot is a Hillary implosion. And it had better happen soon; the more time ticks off the clock, the harder it gets to mount a comeback. If it was halftime last week, well, now it’s five minutes into the third quarter.
At some point very soon, Hillary can coast to the nomination. Well, maybe it’s already happened, considering that she spent most of last week off the campaign trail.
The Sanders camp argues that the back half of the process favors him. In some ways he’s right, although I question whether he can count on victories in states like New York and California. There are plenty of progressive voters in both states, but there are also a lot of mainstream Democrats and substantial minority populations. Bernie still hasn’t gained traction with the black or Hispanic electorate. Also, you might recall that Clinton was a successful and very popular U.S. Senator from New York.
On balance, even if Bernie wins those two states (an iffy proposition at best), there’s no chance he will score the dominant victories he needs.
Bernie has every right to stay in the race. Tad Devine is right to do whatever he can to pump up Bernie’s prospects. But his analogy is fatally flawed, and Bernie has no practical shot at the nomination.