Sanders and Clinton eye California – and then what?

Sanders continues to draw huge crowds as he campaigns in California, New Jersey, and other states voting Tuesday. He trails Clinton by only 270 pledged delegates and has said he will stay in the fight till the convention.

Stephen Lam/Reuters
Democratic US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Cloverdale, Calif., June 3, 2016.

With the end of the primaries in sight, Bernie Sanders's political revolution — and how far he's willing to take his presidential campaign — may hinge on the outcome of the California primary.

Hillary Clinton's campaign says she will clinch the Democratic nomination in the coming days through a combination of pledged delegates and superdelegates. But Senator Sanders is showing few signs of surrender, pointing out his differences with Mrs. Clinton and vowing to take his bid to the Philadelphia convention in July. He currently trails by only 270 pledged delegates, his supporters note, and superdelegates have a history of switching allegiances to support whomever wins the most pledged delegates.

A Sanders victory in California's primary on Tuesday would be an embarrassment for Clinton and embolden the Vermont senator to aggressively lobby superdelegates to switch their support to him.

Clinton has already shifted her attention away from Sanders and onto businessman Donald Trump, criticizing his national security statements and temperament for the White House – but Sanders refuses to yield, as California polls narrow.

"If you tell Hillary, she's going to get very nervous. She looks nervous already," Sanders said Friday night in Cloverdale, noting that Clinton had planned to campaign in New Jersey but flew to California. "It sounds like the campaign is not quite over."

In fact, Sanders seemed an afterthought to a confident Clinton as she campaigned this week in California, hitting hard at her likely general election rival, Donald Trump, instead, and telling supporters Friday that "if all goes well, I will have the great honor as of Tuesday to be the Democratic nominee for president."

Still, Sanders is expected to return to his Vermont home on Wednesday and advisers say he intends to ramp up his courtship of the party's superdelegates, a process that is already underway, pointing to polls that show him faring better than Clinton in head-to-head matchups with Trump.

After 694 delegates are awarded on Tuesday – from California, New Jersey, and four other states – the final remaining contest for the Democratic nomination is the District of Columbia primary on June 14, with 20 delegates at stake. 

Beyond that, Sanders's campaign manager Jeff Weaver said they are considering whether Sanders might appear at more rallies around the country after the primaries and speak in Chicago at a gathering of Sanders activists on June 17-19.

A loss in California, the nation's most populous state, would undercut his case against Clinton, who holds a commanding lead among the superdelegates – elected leaders and party officials who formally cast their support at the convention.

Superdelegates have historically backed the candidate who wins the most delegates from primaries and caucuses.

"Once the numbers come in, I think we can begin a serious discussion among ourselves about what the right path for us is," said Tad Devine, Sanders's senior adviser. He added: "If he wins California and a lot of states, he'll want to make a closing argument to the superdelegates."

Sanders plans to push for his policy views to be included in the party's platform, including steps to rein in Wall Street and overhaul the campaign finance system. He also wants the party to become more inclusive of independent and working-class voters and make it easier for independents to vote in future primaries.

As The Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass wrote last week:

Traditionally, drafting the party platform has been a way for political parties to heal after intense primary campaigns and form a united front for the general election. That will hinge on how Sanders interprets the platform and how he transmits that to his supporters.

In 2008, Clinton chose to support Barack Obama after narrowly losing the nomination to him, preserving her own political aspirations. But this is likely Sanders’ one moment in the national spotlight.

Given all these variables, the drafting of a political party platform – usually a wonkish process – could actually generate public interest.

“It’s [normally] not he biggest area of focus,” says Steve Kerrigan, a longtime Democratic strategist who was CEO of the 2012 Democratic convention. ““There will be more time and attention paid to it than in the past.”

Recalling her own campaign in 2008, Clinton's team has avoided urging Sanders to leave the race.

Sanders has said he will work "day and night" to defeat Trump, whom he repeatedly assails as a divisive figure. Yet few expect Sanders to quickly follow the example set by Clinton, who suspended the roll call vote at the 2008 Democratic convention and urged that then-Sen. Barack Obama be nominated by acclamation. She later campaigned extensively for him and became his secretary of State.

Said Mr. Weaver: "Given what he has said, I suspect there will certainly be a roll call vote at the convention."

So far, neither President Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden have endorsed a candidate, nor has the AFL-CIO, the labor federation representing 12.5 million workers. Progressive icons like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has stayed neutral in the primaries, could help bridge the gap between Sanders and Clinton loyalists.

If he does not win the nomination, Sanders could turn his movement into a fundraising powerhouse for like-minded Democrats. He has raised more than $212 million, mostly online, and begun sending out fundraising emails on behalf candidates like former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold and a host of congressional and legislative hopefuls.

For Joe Salazar, who represents a state legislative district north of Denver, a Sanders fundraising email meant $66,000 for his re-election campaign, more than double what he raised in his entire 2014 campaign. "It's a game-changer," said Salazar, whose average donation from Sanders's email was $5.

Sanders's faithful predict healing will come in due time. "I would like to see unity at the end of the cycle and I think we'll get there," said Lupita Maurer, a Sanders superdelegate in Oregon. 

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