Guest Columnists

Clinton and Sanders' primary countdown

Steffen Schmidt
Steffen Schmidt

My friend Andrej Matisak, Deputy Head of Foreign Desk of the Slovakian Newspaper Pravda in Bratislava sent me an email this weekend asking me, “Steffen. Bernie Sanders said the Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention. But how realistic or unrealistic is this scenario especially when Hillary wins the California primary? Is Sanders pushing for concessions (maybe Veep post, perhaps not for him personally but maybe for somebody who is close to him)?”

This is a great question several American and my CTV (Canadian cable TV) host Scott Laurie have also asked.

There are 2,383 delegates are needed for nomination. As I write this Clinton has enough elected and nonelected “super delegates” to be the “presumed nominee” of the Democratic Party. The media has declared her the first woman candidate of one of the major parties in U.S. history. Nancy Pelosi and other prominent Democrats who had held off are now endorsing Clinton.

California has 475 delegates, New Jersey, 126 and four other states in the biggest Super-Tuesday of all June 7 topped off the race for the nomination. The Democrats use a proportional (not a winner-take-all) system for delegate selection. That means that Clinton hopes to get enough “pledged” delegates (i.e. elected delegates who must vote for her on the first ballot at the Democratic Convention in July) to continue giving her a majority of delegates. Clinton had significant victories in these primaries with the exception of Montana and North Dakota.

But, Clinton may not have all the “pledged” delegates to become the candidate of the Democratic Party. Judging from the June 7 hyper enthusiastic and huge crowds at his California victory speech, Sanders has an important role in his party. After all, he has won 22 states and 10 million votes.

What that means is that until those “Super Delegates” vote at the national convention (assuming they actually vote for her), Clinton is not the candidate of the Democratic Party. Super Delegates are “free agents” and can vote for the candidate they like best; the candidate they think can win the election in November. The Associated Press polled Democratic Super Delegates and declared that she has a solid majority fully committed to her.

Bernie Sanders hoped to do very well in the June 7 contests in order to strengthen his case to convince Super Delegates to change their mind and vote for him at the convention, instead. Why? Because he has won almost as many caucuses and primaries as Clinton and he polls better against Trump than Clinton in several national polls. His supporters believe the “system is rigged” and that the media and the party power brokers have deliberately favored Clinton from the start.


“Super delegates” appear to think Clinton is the one who can win the general election against Trump. As I write this they don’t seem to think Sanders can do that. By the way, Barack Obama won his nomination in 2008 with Super Delegates. Hillary Clinton did not concede for four days after he topped the “magic number.”

Then the question is “What does Bernie Sanders want?”

He really wants to be the Democratic candidate for president.

If he does not win the nomination then what is Sanders objective in staying in the race?

He wants progressive ideas to become more prominent in the Democratic Party. He is a true believer as a Socialist advocating income redistribution, the breakup of large banks, higher taxes on the rich, a national health care system, and less use of military force.

Second, he wants to help influence who Clinton would pick as VP on her ticket. Perhaps he’d like to be the vice presidential candidate himself or he may use his mobilized base of supporters to pressure Clinton into choosing someone as liberal as he is.

Third, he may want to also have some other role (who knows what!) in a Clinton administration. It’s not clear what cabinet position would fit his interests and skills — maybe Secretary of Health or Education.

The progressive voters supporting Sanders may go home and not vote at all if Sanders is not the candidate for president. A significant percentage are young, independents, not Democrats. Many of them are new to politics). Clearly Hillary Clinton wants to “inherit” them from Sanders.

This is truly an extraordinary year for the Democrats with an outsider, Bernie Sanders, successfully challenging and chasing the presumed candidate of the party. In California on primary night he laid out his revolutionary ideas about social justice, health care, and income equality. He made clear his intention to follow through even if Clinton is the candidate of the party. He said he will fight all the way to the convention.

We won’t know the outcome of this drama for certain until July 25-28 when the Democrats hash it out in Philadelphia at their convention.

Stay tuned.

• Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University. Comments:

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