Having removed his suit jacket from the heat, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses as people cheer during a campaign rally at Milton High School in Milton, Mass., Feb. 29, 2016. 
Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Can Bernie Sanders pull off a ‘must-win’ in Colorado?

Updated

Bernie Sanders’ ambitions to best a candidate once viewed as the inevitable Democratic nominee are beset by stark delegate tallies heading into Super Tuesday, when “must-win” states for the Vermont senator will prove critical for him to move forward.

Polls and political experts indicate Sanders could perform well in Colorado, where the caucus process relies on the strong convictions of loyal supporters to turnout on a weekday night. It’s one of five states where Sanders holds a solid chance on Super Tuesday – along with Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and his home state of Vermont – against what could be a massive delegate haul for Hillary Clinton.

Colorado crucially serves as one of the few states where Sanders can capitalize on divisions within the Latino community over which candidate to back for the Democratic nomination – the pragmatist versus the dreamer.

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Entrance polls out of the Nevada caucuses last month showed Sanders carrying the Latino vote by 8 points. And though considerable doubt was cast on the strength of those figures – Clinton resoundingly won most all Latino-heavy districts and she clearly won the overall contest – it cut at the narrative that Latinos were Clinton’s “firewall” in clinching states with heavy Hispanic populations.

Colorado’s Latino presence has boomed in recent years, with Hispanics taking on greater political clout to sway the outcomes of races for both parties. Nearly 15 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic, the Pew Research Center has found. A majority of them are registered Democrats.

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Steep climb for Sanders on Super Tuesday

On the Democratic side, 878 pledged delegates are at stake, and that’s more than a third of the total needed to clinch the nomination.

With little daylight separating the two Democratic candidates on immigration policy, the Sanders campaign has played up the Vermont senator’s populist message around economic inequality, targeting Colorado’s high concentration of college students to promote his proposal of higher wages and free tuition.

“At this go-around, immigration is way down in the ranking. People are more concerned about jobs,” said Estevan Flores, a former professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and a Sanders supporter. “He’s a man of conviction, and he’s a got a big and warm heart, and that is coming through.”

Sanders on Sunday made a campaign stop at Colorado State University, where he spoke at length before a packed crowd of nearly 6,000 people. But he needs that enthusiasm to translate into turnout. Working against the life-long Independent, prospective caucus-goers must have registered as Democrats, and nothing else, by Jan. 4 in order to participate Tuesday night.

He is also up against the Clinton campaign’s extensive ground game, which planted roots months before Sanders made a play for the state. The Clinton campaign has 10 field offices open throughout the state, building on infrastructure left from her 2008 campaign.

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A steady stream of Clinton surrogates have hit the circuit throughout the state with a message specifically targeting Latinos, women and young people.

Former President Bill Clinton jetted straight to Pueblo and Colorado Springs fresh off of his wife’s victory in Nevada. Actress America Ferrera and Chelsea Clinton made a swing through Boulder and Denver last month in a string of informal events billed for Latinas and their families. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who is fluent in Spanish, made his own rounds through Colorado last month.

It’s one of the four states where Sanders is concentrating the bulk of his focus – and ad spending – to stay competitive. Sanders nearly doubled the Clinton campaign’s spending in Colorado, with $1.3 million in ads heading into Super Tuesday.

There are few polls available to reliably gauge the state of play in Colorado. The most recent Quinnipiac poll showed Clinton up by 28 points, but that was back in November, before a single vote had been cast and before Sanders surged nationwide.

“Caucuses in Colorado tend to bring out people with passion, liberals and people who are energized by the message,” said Tom Cronin, a political science professor at Colorado College. “The message-carrier this year is very clearly Sanders.”

The presidential campaign: Bernie Sanders
The self-described democratic socialist is known for pushing change on income inequality, college affordability and criminal justice reform.

Bernie Sanders, Colorado and Hillary Clinton

Can Bernie Sanders pull off a 'must-win' in Colorado?

Updated