Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Democratic Primary: Week 10

Last night, Wisconsin voters went to the polls to voice their preferences for the Republican and Democratic presidential contests. I'm not really following the Republican race, so that's all I'll say about them, but Senator Sanders pulled off another double-digit victory against Secretary Clinton, pulling in 56.6% of the vote and 57.1% of the delegates. That's either basically the same as or slightly better than the result Sanders needed to stay on his path to getting 58% of the delegates since March 15.

This wasn't the only development since my last entry, however. Last weekend, Nevada held its county conventions. These conventions are used to elect delegates to the state convention where Nevada's delegates to the national convention will actually be elected. The initial precinct-level caucuses in February were used to elect the delegates to these county conventions, and the delegate split between Sanders and Clinton was estimated based on the results of the precinct-level caucuses.

At several county conventions, most importantly Clark County, which holds Las Vegas, many delegates elected in February either failed to register for the conventions or changed their presidential preferences between February and April 2. Alternate delegates were able to take the place of delegates who did not register for the conventions on a first-come, first-served basis. The net result of all these changes (or, if you ask the Clinton campaign, of these machinations) was substantially favorable for Senator Sanders.

After the February precinct-level caucuses, Secretary Clinton had 4,774 delegates who had pledged to support her candidacy, while Senator Sanders had 3,928, and 3 were either uncommitted or committed to another candidate, for a total of 8705 delegates to the county convention. At the Clark County convention on April 2, 2016, only 5,350 delegates showed up. Of those, 2,964 supported Senator Sanders and 2,386 supported Secretary Clinton. Clinton's margin of victory changed from 55%/45% to a Sanders margin of victory of 55/45. This reversal is huge (though not set in stone until the state convention in June), and essentially turned Nevada from a close but clear Clinton victory into a virtual tie.

So right now, based on the latest results, Senator Sanders has 1090 pledged delegates, and Secretary Clinton has 1300, bringing her pledged-delegate lead down to 210 from its March 16 peak of 314. In 20 days, Sanders has cut into Clinton's delegate lead by 104, or more than 33%, from her peak pledged-delegate lead. Contrast this with my hypothetical 2008 election, where the contests were held in the same order and on the same dates as they are being held this year, while retaining the outcomes as they happened in the real 2008.

Eight years ago today, Clinton was the underdog to Obama's commanding lead, which had been growing larger and larger every contest since March 9. She did not force Obama to reach his peak delegate lead until after Wyoming, when the next contest gave Clinton an 18-point win in her home state of New York, and pulled Obama's delegate lead down, beginning a slow process of reducing his lead as the convention approached, though she was never able to close the gap. In fact, recall that Clinton never held a pledged-delegate lead on Obama in 2008.

In 2008, Clinton justified her continued campaign, in part, because she felt that her supporters deserved the opportunity to vote for her in the primary. This even as she was falling further and further behind from February through April. Conversely, Sanders has been gaining ground on Clinton reliably since March 16. Don't his supporters deserve just as much the opportunity to vote for their chosen candidate in the primaries when he is gaining ground rapidly as Clinton's supporters did when she was falling further and further behind?

Right now the latest polls show Clinton with a ten-point lead on Sanders in New York, a state that both have some claim on as a home state, and which neither can definitively say without question is a home state, and time and time again Sanders has closed similar gaps within the two weeks leading up to a contest. And this time, New York is the only contest that is being truly contested between now and April 19. Clinton doesn't have a single event in Wyoming, which caucuses this weekend, and Sanders is expected to win.

Things are looking better and better for Senator Sanders, but there's still a long way to go. The week after New York is a huge, multi-state primary day with some states that are likely to be more favorable for Clinton, so Sanders needs to close the gap as much as possible between now and then so he can afford a slight downturn before we move into May.

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