Sunday, March 27, 2016

Post "Western Saturday" Update

Yesterday was the contest CNN dubbed "Western Saturday," where Washington state and Alaska had Democratic caucuses, while Hawaii had a presidential preference poll, which is a weird combination of a primary and a caucus where the voters fill out secret ballots and then hang out while they are counted and announced. Unlike other states, the Hawaii Democratic Party did not release results until they had all been collected, so the mainstream media went to bed and played their pre recorded programming. Meanwhile, a student in Ithaca, NY collected precinct information from Twitter with the help of a dozen or so strangers on the Internet and posted it on a publicly available Google doc so people could get an idea of the outcome.

At the end of the day (by which I mean this morning), it was clear that Senator Sanders had handily won all three contests. His margin of victory ranged from 40-60, depending on the state, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this was a landslide victory for him. Between the timing of these elections (today is Easter Sunday) and the appearance of a finch on Sanders' podium in Portland on Friday, it is difficult to resist the urge to wax poetic, but I will refrain for now.

A bird lands on Bernie Sanders’s podium as he speaks on Portland, Oregon Friday March 25, 2016.(Photo: Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

It has now become even more clear that the peak of Hillary Clinton's delegate lead occurred on March 15, and that she will be on the defensive from this point forward. The next multi-state election is a month away on April 26, which gives Sanders a lot of time to devote significant attention to each of the individual states coming up. Nine days from now, on April 5, Wisconsin will have its first election with its new controversial voter ID law. We have seen in the past that barriers to voting tend to disproportionately impact Sanders' likely voters, so this could be a problem for Sanders. But Wisconsin's primary is open to Independent voters, and he previously won two of the state's neighbors, Minnesota and Michigan, so this state is definitely in play. If you live in Wisconsin, and you are not sure whether you have the correct voter ID, contact VoteRiders for assistance.

Since March 15, 285 Democratic delegates have been pledged, and Sanders has earned 188 (66%) of them. This is well above his 58% target, and is enough to bring his new target down to 56%. He's gained substantial ground (in fact, if you go back to my hypothetical 2008 race from my last post, after adjusting for inflation of the number of delegates, Obama had a bigger lead over Clinton as of today than Clinton has over Sanders, by almost 30 delegates), and this race is far from over. Back in 2008, Obama beat Clinton about 60/40 in both Wisconsin and Wyoming, while this year Sanders is likely to win Wyoming by an even larger margin, and Wisconsin will probably be very competitive.

New York's closed primary on April 19 is the race to watch in the next few weeks, though. A lot of Sanders' biggest strengths will be poorly-matched to this state. He runs very strongly with new voters, and with independent voters, but New York's primaries are closed, so only registered Democrats can vote. The last day to register was this past Friday, and Sanders' official campaign office didn't open in New York until this weekend, so from here it's just a matter of making his case to those who are already registered as Democrats. Several volunteer groups have done tremendous work registering new voters over the past several months, but even those efforts were stymied by New York's labyrinthine electoral laws.

Voters who were previously registered to vote as independent, or under a party other than the Democratic or Republican Party, had to change their registration to Democrat at least 30 days before the last general election, which was held on November 3, 2015. This means that if you're a registered Independent, or registered as a member of the Working Families Party (a major party in New York with automatic ballot access in countless races, but whose candidates are often the same as the Democratic Party's candidates), the last day for you to change your registration to Democrat in order to participate in the primary election on April 19 was in October, before the first Democratic debate.

New York is going to be a hard primary for Sanders, and he will probably lose it because its process is so heavily weighted in favor of the longtime Democratic establishment. If it were only the barriers to entry, it would still be a problem, but it would not be a problem much different than other closed primaries in other states. But the Working Families Party, which is in a lot of respects the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, would likely be strong supporters of Sanders, were they able to vote in the primary. In fact, the Working Families Party has endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. It is unfortunate that their endorsement came two months after the deadline to change parties.

In summary, after this weekend supporters of Senator Sanders have much to be pleased with, but the next month is going to be bumpy. Hold tight!

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