The Talking Heads are Wrong: It’s Not Over Yet

Despite what the pundits say, the outcome of Democratic primary is far from inevitable

Marilyn Katz

Political commentators have consistently underestimated Sanders. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Reported as being 25 points down in the polls only one week ago, Bernie Sanders shocked the Clinton campaign — and more interestingly, political pundits and pollsters by besting Clinton in Michigan.

So, before Hillary supporters prepare a victory party or Sanders supporters turn away from electoral politics and dig in for the long road to revolution, they would be better off planning how they will get out the vote in the next contests where there are 3,197 delegates left to win.

And only one week ago, reading the headlines and listening to the pundit-class commentary on Clinton’s big victory on Super Tuesday and her goliath lead over Sanders’ delegate count one could have assumed that the race is over.

Clinton’s Super Tuesday wins narrow Sanders Path,” read the Washington Post headline. Bernie’s battle against Hillary is close to insurmountable,” said NBC pundit Chuck Todd on the Wednesday after Super Tuesday.

From here on in, Sanders ought to lay off the attacks on Hillary Clinton, the Goldman Sachs speeches and all the rest. Eventually, he’s going to lose. She’s going to win,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky, warning Sanders that if he failed to do so he damages her reputation and ultimately his own.” Even the Guardian got in the act. With the Republican and Democratic nominations all but sewn up after Super Tuesday, Donald and Hillary can stop pretending and go after each other,” wrote columnist Richard Wolffe.

Yet, coming out of Super Tuesday during which Sanders added wins in Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Vermont and a draw in Masschusetts to his previous win in New Hampshire, Sanders has been able to win victories in Maine, Kansas and Nebraska. If anything, along with the Michigan victory, it shows Sanders to be viable in small states and large, in caucus votes and direct elections — defying pollsters and pundits expectations.

There was no question that the talking heads of the 24/7 news machines were shocked by the evening’s result. In fact, in contradistinction to the previous week, no network called the race for Sanders until more than 95 percent of the votes were in despite the fact that there had been a 20,000 vote gap for some time. They had, probably as most of us do, believed their own pronouncements about the insurmountable” challenge that Sanders faces and Clinton’s stunning victories as she, like Sherman, marched through the South.

Yet were those victories really so stunning? Was it or is it time that starry-eyed dreamers who choose revolution over creeping incrementalism pack it up and just get on board with the campaign whose victory was always inevitable? And how much was the media contributing to — or actually creating — a narrative that assures the outcome they describe?

Clinton’s Southern strategy and victories were certainly decisive, but were neither surprising nor particularly extraordinary.

Like Sherman, Clinton had some heavy ammunition going into the fray. As wife of a former Arkansas governor, then First Lady and a two-time candidate for president, Clinton’s name and persona were far more familiar to Southern voters, including African-American voters than those of the Jewish socialist guy with the heavy Brooklyn accent from a tiny state up there somewhere.

And like Sherman Clinton had an army behind her — the 461 elected and appointed Democratic Party officials (superdelegates) who the party establishment had marshaled to pledge themselves to Clinton’s White House juggernaut. These were the party apparatchiks, the people with organizations behind them, who reached out to their communities to get out the Clinton vote both in the South and in the 3 other states, Iowa, Nevada and American Somoa — she won.

What was surprising — and is surprising is how is how well Sanders has done so far. Sanders overcame the socialist” label that for almost a century had been seen as toxic to candidates to win nine remarkably different states (New Hampshire, Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Vermont, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine and Michigan) and fought to a virtual draw in Massachusetts and Iowa.

Which brings us to the numbers that create the supposedly insurmountable” challenge for Sanders.

On Super Tuesday, it was reported, even before the voting was over that the day’s contest had created a barrier for Sanders — a mountain of 1,223 delegate votes that dwarfed Sanders’ 574. Even progressive commentators, who were and are still feeling the Bern,” spoke and wrote about the Sanders’ campaign in words more befitting a eulogy than a rallying cry.

Yet while accurate, the reporting doesn’t tell the whole story. As noted above, 461 of the delegates ascribed to Hillary are superdelegates — party leaders and elected officials who are anointed with a special voting status — who have been convinced to say they’ll vote for Hillary at the Convention, but are not bound to, particularly if Sanders continues to win.

The actual delegates won by Clinton and Sanders on Super Tuesday were been 609 to 412. One week later, the gap hasn’t changed much with Clinton having 760 elected delegates to Sanders’ 546.

Yet the fact that Sanders could win in elections as well as caucuses, in large states with diverse populations as well as small states that are predominantly white seemed less important than the Clinton delegate and superdelegate count. That is, I believe, a mistake. Should Sanders somehow end up winning half of the elected delegates over the next weeks and come to a virtual draw with Clinton, the superdelegate juggernaut would crumble, with down ticket candidates examining where there best chance for election in the future lies.

So, before Hillary supporters prepare a victory party or Sanders supporters turn away from electoral politics and dig in for the long road to revolution, they would be better off planning how they will get out the vote in the next contests where there are 3,197 delegates left to win.

I do not presume to know who will win the rest of the primaries or ultimately the nomination. What I do know is that 15 years after George W. Bush plunged the nation into what has become an endless war and 8 years since his policies plunged the nation into the Great Recession and despite Obama’s best efforts, most Americans are poorer than they were at the onset of the century, economic and racial inequality are on the rise as is criminal violence, fear and desperation. People feel stuck.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have the unenviable yet essential task of uniting those who hold two very different visions of how to move the nation forward and inspiring them to vote. Should they not, we face the real possibility of a victory by the a Trump or a Cruz — two candidates who, with campaigns built on jingoism, fear of the other and the promise of a mythical Father Knows Best world where everyone knows and stays in their place -ace — take us down a road from which their might be no return.

Marilyn Katz is a writer, consultant, public policy communications strategist and long-time political activist. She is president of MK Communications, a partner in Democracy Partners and a founder and co-chair of the newly formed Chicago Women Take Action.
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