Election 2016

Bernie Has the Big Mo. Can He Catch Hillary?

Nearly 150 delegates are in play on Saturday.

Photo Credit: https://berniesanders.com

Bernie Sanders’ momentum appears to be growing as he heads into West Coast contests Saturday, including the largest state to hold a Democratic Party caucus: Washington.

Sanders is drawing huge crowds, speaking to 7,000 people on Thursday in Washington in the SunDome arena on the Yakama Nation’s treaty territory. “Native Americans have been lied to. They’ve been cheated,” he said. “If elected president, there will be a new relationship with the Native American community.”

Sanders was also slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton in a new national poll from Bloomberg Politics, which found he was the first choice of 49 percent of people who already voted or planned to participate in this year’s Democratic nominating contests. He also held larger leads than Clinton against all remaining GOP contenders in hypothetical fall matchups.   

But the more concrete signs of Sanders’ steady momentum come from developments this week, in which Sanders won more delegates than Clinton in Tuesday’s contests in Arizona, Utah and Idaho. An analysis by MSNBC found “he ended up taking away a tidy 57 percent of the pledged delegates up for grabs that day. And as it happens, 58 percent is the percentage of outstanding pledged delegates Sanders needs to win from now on in order to finish the primary calendar with more pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton.”

Sanders has won seven out of the nine caucuses held so far in 2016—he tied in Iowa—and by larger margins than in states holding primaries. That edge, exemplified by his getting 80 percent of the vote in Utah and Idaho this week, has helped him win more delegates than Clinton, cutting into her lead after sweeping southern states.  

These ongoing competitive results show why Sanders is forging ahead and insisting that he can still get the nomination, not just make a symbolic showing and become the Democratic Party’s moral compass. Saturday’s caucus in Washington, 2016’s largest with 101 delegates, has great potential to show he can keep cutting into Clinton’s lead.

Alaska and Hawaii are also holding caucuses this weekend, bringing the total number of pledged delegates in play to 142. In all of these states, Sanders has key endorsements that go beyond his already large base among young voters.

On Thursday, Sanders won the endorsement of the Longshoreman’s Union, which has 50,000 members in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. “Bernie is best on the issues that matter most to American workers: better trade agreements, support for unions, fair wages, tuition for students at public colleges, Medicare for all, fighting a corrupt campaign finance system and confronting the power of Wall Street that’s making life harder for most Americans,” said ILWU International president Robert McEllrath.

Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has also made a powerful new 90-second ad, titled The Cost of War, that should especially resonate with veterans. 

“Being a warrior is about believing what you are fighting for and holding strong to those convictions,” she says. “I felt a sense of duty. I could not in good conscience stay back here in beautiful Hawaii and watch my brothers and sisters in uniform go off into combat. These are people and friends who we never forget.”

“Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq war,” Gabbard continues. “He understands the cost of war, that that cost is continued when our veterans come home. Bernie Sanders will defend our country and take the trillions of dollars on these interventionist, regime-change, unnecessary wars and invest it here at home. The American people are not looking to settle for inches. They’re looking for real change.”  

Sanders is also looking past this weekend’s Pacific state contests. On Saturday, he heads to Madison, Wisconsin, where he has booked a 10,000-seat arena for a rally in advance of the state’s April 5 primary. As the Washington Post noted Friday, Sanders is expecting large crowds while the Clinton campaign sent Chelsea Clinton to talk to 100 volunteers at their Madison headquarters, which they called “hostile territory” for Clinton backers.   

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).