Two of the top architects of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, strategist Tad Devine and campaign manager Jeff Weaver, addressed reporters Wednesday at the Bernie HQ in Burlington, Vermont.
The topic was Super Tuesday, where Sanders won four of the 11 states up for grabs and came close in a fifth, Massachusetts. He was shellacked in the South, where black voters continued to turn out against for Hillary Clinton in huge numbers.
The Sanders campaign had largely avoided the Deep South after South Carolina and ahead of Super Tuesday, focusing instead on states with whiter populations. It won four of its five targets, narrowly losing Massachusetts. But Clinton's states — including Massachusetts — provided a huge number of pledged delegates to add to her already sizable superdelegate lead. It was a bad enough result for Sanders that Clinton's general election strategy is now a coverage topic.
The Sanders strategists insist it’s worthwhile for Bernie to keep campaigning, however. Here are their three reasons:
1. The map ahead favors Sanders, according to Devine.
"We understand that we have a long road ahead of us that we're going to have to take if we want to win the nomination of the Democratic Party," he said. "Super Tuesday, in my view, was perhaps the the single best day on the calendar for Hillary Clinton."
Devine said observers should look at "the demographics" of the states that come up next. Basically, that means there are more of the white, working-class voters the Sanders team thinks are best for him coming up. Sanders has also said that black voters outside the deep south are more likely to back him. The campaign looks to states like Michigan, Kansas, and Nebraska to rebuild the momentum it's lost after New Hampshire to give Sanders a boost ahead of the big delegate prizes in California and New York.
Michigan is next on the calendar. Public polling shows Sanders trailing badly there, but the Sanders aides said a message focused on Sanders' long-running opposition to free-trade deals will close the gap. There hasn't been much polling of California and New York yet.
2. Anything can happen, Sanders aides say. Things happen!
Devine pushed back on delegate math showing Clinton with a huge lead. He said late contests matter, and that candidates can stay in because gaffes or other events can occur that up-end the presumptive nominee.
Devine worked for Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984, a Democratic nominee who faced a tough progressive insurgency led by Colorado Sen. Gary Hart.
"Mondale would not have been the nominee of the party, I believe, unless we won the New Jersey primary on the last day of voting in June," Devine said. "Frankly if Gary Hart had not alluded to the fact that he and his wife were having a good time in California because they were not at a toxic waste dump in New Jersey, I don't know, quite frankly, if we would have won that primary.
"So things happen. And a lot of things, I think, can and will happen in the weeks and months ahead."
The "dynamic nature of this process" means Sanders can rise if Clinton's stock starts to fall for some reason, Devine said.
"If Hillary Clinton does not consistently win in the weeks and months ahead, in big states and in small, questions will arise around her candidacy," he said. "Her ability to coalesce a nominating majority of delegates will, I think, be substantially inhibited."
3. Clinton did it.
Hillary Clinton chased Barack Obama all over the country in the 2008 primary, with the pair fighting tooth-and-nail until the last day of the process in June. Four days after the last primary vote was cast, and the math showed Obama could not be defeated, Clinton conceded the nomination to him.
Devine noted that long battle when asked why Sanders is committed to stay in until the end, and if that commitment could damage Clinton's chances if she wins.
A long Sanders campaign would be good for Clinton and the Democratic Party, he said.
"As Secretary Clinton demonstrated in her own campaign, in 2008, in her challenge to Barack Obama which went all the through the final primary, I think President Obama benefited from that competition all the way through the process," he said. "I believe that we owe it to the voters — certainly Bernie feels he owes it to the millions of people who have already come forward to support his candidacy through volunteering, through contributing, and through other means to give them an opportunity to support him."