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What Will Define The Next Phase Of The Sanders Campaign?

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had his momentum “upended.” His opponent, Hillary Clinton, did not just sweep Sanders in the states, which had primaries. She shut him down. Clinton also “locked up” the nomination with her victories on Tuesday night. That is the dominant establishment media narrative.

It is an establishment media narrative fueled by the blacking out of major campaign speeches by Sanders. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC refused to air any portion of his speech on primary results. Instead, the networks spent air time anticipating Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s speech on his victories instead.

As of March 16, Clinton has 1,139 pledged delegates, and Sanders has 825 pledged delegates. Did Clinton’s victories stunt the momentum of the Sanders campaign?

After the upset win in Michigan, the Sanders campaign had hopes for victories in states like Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. However, Sanders was losing in polls by anywhere from 15-to-25 points in the weeks before. This was the margin he had to make up in order to win the states.

In Illinois, Clinton won by 50.4% to 48.7%, which means Clinton only won one more delegate than Sanders. Clinton only beat Sanders by 0.2% of the vote in Missouri. The two won the same amount of delegates so it was effectively a draw.

The Sanders campaign managed to narrow some rather large leads in Illinois and Missouri. The ability of the campaign to shift dynamics and win by huge margins will be crucial in the next phase of the primary.

On the same day that Sanders lost four of the five races, he held a rally in Phoenix that was attended by 8,255 people. Clinton has a double-digit lead against Sanders, but there are apparently 26 percent, who are undecided. Seventy-five delegates are up for grabs in the primary on March 22.

The Utah and Idaho caucuses are on March 22 as well. In February, a UtahPolicy.com survey gave Sanders a sizable advantage over Clinton. Sanders did very well in the Kansas, Maine, and Nebraska caucuses.

Some of the biggest hubs of Sanders support are in major cities in the western United States, including Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Oakland, and Tucson.

Staff and volunteers knew the map of primaries did not favor Sanders until after March 15. The campaign knew it would be a slog to eke out wins or avoid blowouts in states, where large numbers of delegates would be rewarded. The campaign also recognized southern states would overwhelmingly go to Clinton and give her a big lead. So, the path to victory, which Sanders believes still exists, factored in many of the outcomes which the media cites when claiming there is just no way Clinton will lose.

Additionally, some of the few super-delegates, who have announced support for Sanders, are planning to lobby fellow super-delegates to support Sanders too. They intend to step up efforts to convert Clinton super-delegates into Sanders super-delegates. It will not be easy.

The Clintons are the most powerful family in Democratic Party politics, and it is probably understood among super-delegates that there will be consequences to careers for anyone who shifts support to Sanders. Yet, in the system the Democratic Party has established, winning more support from super-delegates could prove critical to preventing Clinton from “clinching” the nomination before many of the primaries have even taken place.

Still, a majority of pledged delegates have yet to be awarded in the primary race.

Will the outcome of the primaries—the fact that Sanders did not pull off any miracle victories—impact his ability to increase voter turnouts and win by huge margins in upcoming states?

The Clinton campaign holds great sway over media coverage of the Democratic primary race. Her campaign apparently sent a memo, “A Nearly Insurmountable Lead,” to media after the results were announced. They acknowledged Sanders will do well in the states coming up this month, but the campaign maintained, “Our pledged delegate lead is so significant that even a string of victories by Sen. Sanders over the next few weeks would have little impact on Secretary Clinton’s position in the race.”

To close the gap, Sanders would have to “replicate the large double-digit victories Secretary Clinton accomplished.” They also claimed that the decision to lobby super-delegates represented the “tactics of a campaign that has all but given up on winning the nomination through pledged delegates.”

The arguments in this memo will be the frame for most, if not all, of the establishment media coverage of Sanders throughout the next week. Most supporters recognize the media has been unfair to Sanders, but the issue is whether the constant barrage of messages about how it is impossible to win will affect voters in the upcoming primaries.

One thing to consider is the fact that citizens often are conditioned to strategically vote by pundits on television. Even though these pundits have been miserably wrong about a lot in the 2016 presidential election thus far, they have successfully convinced voters that Clinton is inevitable. This may have the effect of pushing undecideds to no longer decide between Sanders or Clinton. The undecideds may choose to vote against Trump in Republican primaries to prevent him from winning the delegates he needs to clinch the nomination.

There is a lot at stake. The Democratic Party primary offers a rare opportunity for citizens to repudiate destructive policies from the era of President Bill Clinton. It presents an opening for going beyond the politics of the status quo. But fearful voters will vote against someone to achieve some outcome, especially when media are pounding the drumbeat of inevitability so madly.

Sanders campaign volunteers and his supporters have to persuade voters to dismiss some of the dominant media messages and vote for a bold vision for social justice rather than against the politics of fear and bigotry. They have to convince citizens that voting for this vision is a part of defeating the politics of fear and bigotry.

Finally, there are millions throughout the United States, who have not given up on the Sanders campaign. The Sanders campaign will continue to raise funds. The campaign will continue to get under the skin of the Clinton campaign, and the campaign will lash out and misrepresent or outright lie about Sanders’ record and his positions on key issues, as they have done numerous times.

From the exit polls in the five state primaries, ABC News reported, “Only six in 10 Democratic voters in preliminary exit poll results describe Clinton as honest and trustworthy, while eight in 10 say that about Sanders. Sanders is considered more honest in all five states today, including by a wide margin in Missouri, but also by double-digits in Ohio.”

Why are a significant number of citizens in states voting for Clinton, when they believe Sanders is more honest and trustworthy? After all, Sanders lost Ohio by double-digits.

The answer to the question may have something to do with Hillary Clinton’s name brand recognition. It may have something to do with the fact that quite a few would like to see Bill Clinton in the White House again. Whatever is driving this dynamic, if Sanders can convince people who see Clinton as untrustworthy to support him, he may be able to close the gap in the race.

Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."