Democrats never thought it would come to this, but here we are: The last Super Tuesday of the presidential election year is upon us, and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both in the race.
It’s no doubt a frustrating moment for the party. On the one hand, after her win in Puerto Rico’s primary on Sunday, the Associated Press reports that Hillary Clinton has enough delegates to claim the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. But on the other hand, six states will vote on Tuesday, including Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and perhaps the biggest prize of the entire primary process, California, a state that Sanders hopes will buoy his chances of winning over superdelegates.
Sanders has steadily amped up his rhetoric over the course of the year. It’s been forgotten given the recent acrimony, but Sanders was wearing kid gloves for much of the early campaign. One of the most memorable moments of the primary came in October, when Sanders angrily refused to attack Clinton for using a poorly secured personal email account to conduct sensitive government business.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics,” Sanders proclaimed. “The American people are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails.”
In recent months, his tone has shifted. He still hasn’t attacked Clinton over her “damn emails,” though in January he did say it was “a very serious issue,” but on nearly every other issue, from Clinton’s cozy relationship to the big banks, to her unwillingness to share the transcripts of her speeches, to her lack of progressive bona fides, to the party’s corrupt nominating process, Sanders has aggressively attacked Clinton and the establishment that supports her.
Clinton, for her part, has been stuck. She’s desperate to put Sanders in the rearview mirror in order to begin campaigning against Donald Trump, but she also increasingly recognizes that Sanders’ comments, if left with no rebuttal, could do lasting damage to her candidacy. As a result, she’s made the decision to strike back, not by making substantive arguments that could poison the well with Sanders supporters, but by arguing that the race is over and it’s now time to unify.
“I went all the way to the end against then-Senator Obama. I won in out of the last 12 contests back in ’08. I won Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia. So I know the intense feelings that arise, particularly among your supporters as you go toward the end,” Clinton told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “But we both were following the same rules, just as both Senator Sanders and I are following the same rules, and I’m 3 million votes ahead of him and I have an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates, and I’m confident that just as I did with Senator Obama, where I said, you know what? It was really close. Much closer. Much closer than it is between me and Senator Sanders right now.”
The not-so-subtle implication: I’ve had to eat my pride in the past. Now it’s your turn. Get out of the race.
Sanders not so subtle response: Hell no.
The Vermont senator has campaigned hard in California, a state where the demographics clearly favor Hillary Clinton. He even opened up a new line of attack, criticizing the Clinton Foundation for “collect[ing] many millions of dollars from foreign governments, governments which are dictatorships.”
All that work seems to have paid off. Data from California’s Secretary of State, compiled by the New Yorker, show that between mid-March and mid-May the number of registered Democrats rose by more than two hundred and twenty thousand, the majority of which were under the age of twenty. On Thursday, the respected Field Poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among likely voters by just two points, well within the poll’s margin of error.
While a loss in California would be disastrous for Clinton, in that it almost guarantees a revolt at the Democratic National Convention, a win in the penultimate primary doesn’t necessarily pave a smooth path either. In fact, Sanders has already pledged to keep the fight alive regardless of the Super Tuesday’s results and preemptively picked a fight with the party over their messaging of the results.
“On Tuesday night, on the 7th, you’re going to hear from the media saying that Hillary Clinton has received whatever it is — 80 or 90 delegates — which she certainly will from New Jersey and other states, and they’ll say the primary process is over, Secretary Clinton has won,” Sanders told a crowd in Santa Cruz last week. “The Democratic National Committee will tell you it’s not factually correct. The truth is no candidate — not Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders — will receive the number of pledged delegates, that is, the real delegates that people vote for. Neither candidate will have received the number of pledged delegates that he or she needs to become the Democratic nominee. What that means is that the superdelegates will be the people who determine who the nominee is.”
“The media is in error when they lumped superdelegates with pledged delegates. Pledged delegates are real,” he reiterated in a combative news conference in Los Angeles on Saturday. He then vowed, “The Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention.”
And if the recent party infighting is any indication, you can bet it’ll be a doozy.