• US Democratic primaries
  • The state of the race – and why Bernie Sanders is and should be staying in

  • By Matthias Kötter | 02 Jun 16 | Posted under: North America , Elections
  • Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee for US president in 2016, but he isn’t dropping out, for good reasons.

    The state of the race for the Democratic nomination is quite clear, and, from this author’s perspective, disheartening.

    Right now, before the California and New Jersey primaries, Hillary Clinton leads Sanders in the popular vote by a healthy margin (the exact number is debatable) and in delegates (super delegates excluded – see footnote) by 270.

    It will be nearly impossible for Sanders to catch up with Clinton’s pledged delegate (see footnote) lead (he would need two-thirds of the remaining vote) and it is mathematically impossible for Sanders to win the nomination without the help of super delegates - while Clinton, with the huge support she already receives from the party establishment super delegates, just needs about 12% of the remaining vote to claim the nomination. She will, in all likelihood, not reach the magic number of 2383 delegates needed for the nomination without her super delegate support - she would need about 80% of the remaining vote for that.

    With her super delegate support, Clinton is expected to be declared the winner of the Democratic primaries by most US news networks on June 7, when the first votes start coming in from New Jersey - even before California has finished voting. She is also expected to be the winner of the popular vote - although that might not be so relevant, as in 2008, Clinton actually won the popular vote, by a small margin - but Obama was far more adept at contesting Clinton where it counted, delegate wise.

    Why the campaign continues

    Therefore, for supporters of the Sanders cause, the state of the race is quite dire. The Democratic establishment, parts of the US media and members of Clinton’s campaign have started calling – more loudly than ever – for Sanders’ withdrawal from the race.

    But observers and supporters are fighting for more than the - by now - virtually impossible nomination of Bernie Sanders. They are fighting for a change of focus, a change of discourse. They are fighting for the adoption of Sanders’ anti-neoliberal, socialist, class-conscious platform at the party convention, they are fighting for rule-changes for future democratic primaries, they are fighting for a more open, just, inclusive Democratic Party - a Democratic Party that is therefore more potent to take on the reactionary brute force that is Donald Trump.

    In a way, the Sanders campaign is also continuing, because the Sanders coalition is a coalition of socio-economically disenfranchised voters, of those tired of choosing between the lesser of two evils, choosing between billionaires.

    In the case of this election, the choice could be between a misogynist, racist, reactionary demagogue and billionaire - and a Wall Street favourite, neoliberal, TTIP-supporting elitist with hawkish foreign policy positions.

    While Clinton has been quite successful with parts of the Obama coalition of voters - namely with African-Americans, Latino-Americans, women and elderly Democrats, Sanders has been successful with other parts of the Obama coalition - namely with young Democrats and Independents. It is exactly these voters that are decisive in a general election, so it doesn’t come as a surprise, that in general election polls, Sanders is performing much better against Trump than Clinton. Aside from the urgency of this election, the Sanders coalition (or, possibly, the future “Sanders Democrats”) is a coalition worth taking seriously, for the future of the American Left and a Progressive Democratic Party.

    The fight has an impact

    Bernie Sanders has, in a way, built upon such movements as the Occupy Wall Street movement - and, at a later stage of the campaign, more any more on the Black Lives Matter movement (with a steep learning curve for candidate and campaign, but one, that ultimately led to a very important policy platform). He has attracted some of the biggest crowds in every state and all this without taking in corporate money and without running attack-ads. More than this, he and the movement around his campaign have reinvigorated the American left, created a new discoursive space, repositioned the term “socialist” in the public discourse and inspired something that should go far beyond the first half of 2016.

    The question before this movement will soon be how to translate this progressive energy into something that lasts – will it transform the Democratic Party from within, similar to what the Tea Party has undoubtedly (and menacingly) achieved with the Grand Old Party? Or will it be more akin to an extraparliamentary opposition? Or will it be a movement that loses its momentum and splinters into fractions?

    No matter what the answer to this question might be, there is a real impact of the Bernie revolution to be observed. Elisabeth Warren, a favourite of US progressives, is rumoured to be a high contender for Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, which is seen as a concession to Sanders’ voters.

    Sanders campaign, in the meantime, was allowed to name almost just as many representatives to the Democratic Party platform-writing body for the convention as Clinton’s - and named, among others, James Zogby, billed by the Washington Post as a “pro-Palestinian activist“.

    This might be a sign, that Bernie Sanders is exactly where he needs to be: too uncomfortably close to the party-establishment candidate to ignore, too successful to just push him, his leftist agenda and his voters out of the race. This is the reason why he is and should contest the election until the convention.

    Explanation of terms:

    Pledged delegates:
    Those delegates sent to the Democratic convention who are bound to the election results in their state (distributed proportionally).

    Super delegates:
    Those delegates sent to the Democratic convention who are not bound to any election results. SDs were created as a way for the party establishment to influence unwanted election results. SDs are usually Democratic governors, members of congress or members of the Democratic National Committee.

    All data is from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016



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