Election 2016

Sanders Takes Significant Bite Out of Clinton's Lead With Big Wins in Saturday's Caucuses

Sanders: "It is hard for anybody to deny we have the momentum."

Photo Credit: berniesanders.com

Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by overwhelming margins in all three caucuses on Saturday—Washington, Alaska and Hawaii— cutting into her nationwide lead in pledged delegates by almost a quarter. 

“Our campaign was just declared the winner of two more states: Washington State with 101 delegates, and Alaska with 16 delegates,” Sanders said in an email blast before the Hawaii results were in. “These are our fourth and fifth wins out of the last six results, and there’s still another caucus today where we expect to do very well.”

Before Saturday, Clinton was ahead by about 280 pledged degelates. But Sanders picked up 10 more delegates than she did in Alaska, where he won more than 80 percent of the vote by caucus-goers, according to the returns. Then he won the day’s biggest delegate prize in Washington, where getting the votes of 72 percent of caucus-goers netted him 45 more delegates than Clinton. In Hawaii, where Sanders won 70 percent of the vote, Sanders got 18 delegates and Clinton got 7—netting him 11 more.

Thus, Sanders finished Saturday’s three western state caucuses with 66 more delegates than Clinton, shaving her lead by almost a fourth. That creates undeniable momentum for the next Democratic contest on April 5 in Wisconsin, where 96 delegates are at stake. 

“We are on a path toward victory,” Sanders told a Saturday evening rally in Madison, the state’s capital, where more than 8,100 supporters filled an arena at the Alliant Energy Center. “It is hard for anybody to deny that our campaign has the momentum.”

The Clinton campaign and much of the mainstream media has sought to portray Sanders’ latest surge as a statistical hiccup that will not deter her eventual nomination. But Sanders has continued to defy expectations by attracting large turnouts in caucus states, such as the 200,000 people who participated in Washington on Saturday, a number that rivaled 2008’s historic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.     

Sanders has resisted pressure to step aside and keeps winning powerful endorsements as the race continues. He not only picked up key union endorsements last week—West Coast dockworkers—but elected Democrats like U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, and in progressive and tech-oriented Seattle, the endorsement of the Seattle Times. “Authenticity and consistency are so rare in politics these days—no wonder a strong number of voters are supporting U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid to become the Democratic candidate for president,” the editorial said. “Sanders’ strength lies in his ability to generate important discussions on topics other entrenched politicians are too timid to touch.”

Sanders may have a ways to go to win the nomination—and that includes winning by big margins in forthcoming votes in East Coast states like New York and Pennsylvania—but it is undeniable that what his campaign has long said is becoming true: the 2016 caucus and primary calendar that initially favored Clinton is now tilting toward him. In the past week alone, Sanders picked up more delegates than Clinton in Idaho, Utah and among Democrats abroad. He also edged into a slight nationwide lead over Clinton in a poll by Bloomberg Politics, and fared better than she did in matchups with Donald Trump. In a recent CNN/ORC poll, Clinton had a 12-point lead, but Sanders beat Trump by 20 points.

As MSNBC reported earlier this week, Sanders needs at least 58 percent of the vote in the remaining contests to get enough delegates to win the nomination—and on Tuesday, even after losing badly in Arizona to Clinton, his outsized wins that night in Utah and Idaho means that he took home 57 percent of delegates at stake.

The Delegate Math

For those tracking the numbers, each state holding a Saturday caucus has different rules on how it awards delegates based on a mix of local caucuses, followup statewide party conventions and so-called superdelegates, the top elected officials, members of Congress and party leaders who do not have to declare their support or can change it anytime up to the national party convention.  

Washington state, which held the nation’s largest Democratic caucus (based on its population) had 101 delegates in play on Saturday. Of those, 67 are awarded based on caucuses in the state’s 10 congressional districts, according to TheGreenPapers.com, an authoritative website tracking each party and state’s delegate rules. The next 34 delegates are divided based on Saturday’s statewide totals, meaning Sanders would be the recipient of 73 delegates, compared to 28 for Clinton, a net gain of 45 delegates for Sanders. (An additional 17 superdelegates are unpledged and not included in GreenPapers’ tally.)

In Alaska, the allocation process differs slightly, but Sanders is predicted to get 13 delegates to three for Clinton, an additional gain of 10 delegates, TheGreenPapers said. Ten delegates are awarded Saturday based on the caucus results, they note, and four more are given based on the forthcoming state convention, where three-fourths of participants will be Sanders supporters chosen on Saturday. (The state only has two superdelegates, which GreenPapers included in its totals.)

In Hawaii, 25 delegates awarded Saturday were divided based on caucus results, with Sanders getting 18 and Clinton getting seven, for a net gain of 11. Thus, in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, Sanders won 66 more delegates than Clinton. She started the day with an approximate 280-delegate lead over Sanders, which means that his strong showing shaved her lead back by almost a quarter. Clinton may be winning numerically, but the current momentum is on Sanders’ side and showing that his candidacy cannot be ignored. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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