For Bernie Sanders in California, Time Is Slipping Away

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The last showdown.

For weeks now, California’s 475 pledged delegates have glimmered on the near horizon for Bernie Sanders’s supporters like the Cheshire Cat’s smile, faint some days and clear on others. In theory, an exceptionally strong performance in the Golden State could greatly shrink Hillary Clinton’s pledged-delegate lead (271 at present, according to AP) while burnishing Bernie’s Big Mo argument to superdelegates that Clinton is damaged goods and likely to lose a general election. And throughout the month of May, reports of monster Sanders rallies in California left observers wondering if Clinton’s early lead in the state might have vanished or even turned into a Bernie Bulge. With no new public polls appearing, who knew? 

Well, the polling drought ended Monday with a new California survey from SUSA, which showed that with two weeks left Clinton is holding on to the same 18-point (57-39) lead the pollster found for her in April. Her lead among the 19 percent of voters who reported having already cast their ballots by mail was a similar 57-41. 

There are some head-scratching details in this poll, such as Sanders’s sparse 52-47 lead among voters under 35, and for that matter, Clinton’s equally narrow 52-46 lead among Latinos. On the other hand, half of the likely primary voters are nonwhite, which shows this is a tougher state for Sanders than its hyperprogressive reputation would initially suggest. 

In any event, even if this poll turns out to be inaccurate (all breaths are bated until the final edition of the authoritative Field Poll comes out), its findings are so inconsistent with the possibility of a Sanders landslide that it will cast a pall on Team Bernie unless and until sharply contrary data arrives. The sense that Sanders is struggling a bit is reinforced by the lawsuit his campaign (along with the California American Independent Party) filed last Friday demanding an extension of the party-affiliation re-registration deadline from May 23 until primary day, on the grounds that state and county election officials are not explaining clearly enough to self-identified independents how to ensure they can vote in the Democratic primary (indies not requesting a Democratic ballot cannot participate in the Democratic primary, and hundreds of thousands will in any event be barred because they erroneously registered as members of the AIP, the right-wing party founded by George Wallace back in 1968). 

It’s unclear how the lawsuit will be resolved, but time is running out for the Sanders campaign, in any event. The candidate himself continues to hold out the possibility that superdelegates will switch en masse to him even if he trails Clinton in pledged delegates when the primaries end, but that’s even less likely than a huge Bernie landslide in California.