A couple of weeks ago, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, laid out his short-term expectations for the Democratic presidential race, which now appears rather prescient. As Mook saw it, Bernie Sanders would win the next five caucus states with relative ease – Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and the state of Washington – while coming within striking distance in Arizona.
After Clinton’s bigger-than-expected win in Arizona, one of Mook’s predictions looked a little off, but the rest of the assessment was quite sound. Last week, Sanders cruised to easy wins in Idaho and Utah, and over the weekend, the independent senator did it again.
Bernie Sanders swept all three Democratic caucuses on Saturday, with decisive victories over front-runner Hillary Clinton in Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii, according to NBC News analysis.Speaking to a rapturous crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, after his victory in Alaska, Sanders declared his campaign was making “significant inroads” into Clinton’s big delegate lead.
Sanders was supposed to do well in Saturday’s caucuses, but let’s be clear: he did extremely well, winning by margins ranging from 40 to 70 points. As for “significant inroads,” the final numbers are still coming together, but it looks like Sanders will end up with a net gain of 60 to 70 pledged delegates.
By most measures, Saturday was Sanders’ single best day of the entire presidential race: three lopsided landslides, which, when combined, gave the Vermonter his biggest net delegate gain of 2016.
That’s the good news for Sanders and his supporters. The bad news is, well, just about everything else.
The delegate math is so brutal for the senator that narrowing the gap in earnest remains incredibly daunting. Clinton’s recent victory in the Florida primary, for example, netted her about 70 delegates. Sanders’ wins on Saturday night were worth roughly as much.
Or put another way, Clinton appeared likely to win the Democratic nomination on March 15, when she led by about 215 pledged delegates, and as things stand, her advantage is even larger now, even including Sanders’ weekend wins. (Adding Democratic superdelegates to the equation makes Clinton’s advantage even larger.)
The argument from the Sanders campaign is that these results don’t happen in a vacuum: big wins get noticed, and this leads to improved fundraising, positive press, increased enthusiasm, and a sense of momentum as the race enters the next round of contests.
And while that may yet happen, the calendar is unforgiving. Sanders is excelling – winning by enormous margins, making sizable net delegate gains – in caucus states with low turnout among African-American and Latino voters. There are a few more of these contests remaining – Wyoming and North Dakota stand out – but there aren’t many, and the number of delegates at stake is quite modest.
Saturday’s caucuses were practically custom made for Sanders, and he took full advantage, winning by enormous margins. But what he needs is a calendar full of caucus states like these, and they don’t exist in a quantity that would make a real difference. The alternative is racking up big wins in competitive primaries, which could happen, but which recent history suggests is unlikely.
I’m not saying his nomination is impossible – it’s been an election cycle full of unexpected developments – but even after the weekend, the Democratic race doesn’t look much different than it did a couple of weeks ago. Sanders was a long shot before his latest round of caucus wins, and he’s still a long shot now.