Bernie Sanders’ campaign is defiant, saying there is still a race despite the fact that the AP called it for Hillary Clinton. | AP Photo
LOS ANGELES — Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee on Monday night, but Bernie Sanders still has a big problem with the word “presumptive.”
Even after the Associated Press declared Monday that she would become the first woman to top a major party ticket this fall, the increasingly combative Vermont senator’s posture — and that of his increasingly furious campaign team — remained clear: This ain’t over.
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“It was one of the most appalling things I’ve seen in a long time,” senior campaign adviser Mark Longabaugh said of the AP call, noting that the organization had taken weeks to count Sanders’ delegates from Washington state earlier this year, a saga that roiled the Sanders team, but somehow managed to chase down enough undeclared superdelegates to declare Clinton the primary winner on the eve of the campaign’s last big primary day. “Yet here they are haranguing and badgering super delegates before the final votes were cast. On top of the fact that they’re awarding delegates in Puerto Rico when the counting isn’t even finished in Puerto Rico.”
“It’s scandalous. It’s absolutely scandalous and it really feeds into what Sanders supporters believe, and quite frankly probably some people on the right who are sick and tired of the establishment that feeds right into it, that this whole thing was rigged right from the beginning,” said prominent Sanders surrogate Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator. “The nominee for Democrats is not called. She does not have the absolute number. The number is set up by the Democratic party. She does not have that number and will not have that number without superdelegates and because superdelegates can not vote until the Wednesday of the convention neither her nor the senator will have it. And what it does it is it gets into the heads of people who are yet to vote.”
Sanders himself didn’t mention the development at his 10,500-person strong rally in San Francisco’s Presidio on Monday night, instead repeating his frequent case that superdelegates should flip their loyalties from Clinton because he is the stronger candidate in preliminary polling matchups against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. A win in California, he told his audience, would give him “enormous momentum” ahead of Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia.
In ignoring the flashing headlines and digging in his heels deeper than ever in the closing hours of the California primary, Sanders let his communications director’s fuming statement from earlier in the evening speak for the campaign.
“It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgment, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee’s clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of super delegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer. Secretary Clinton does not and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” said spokesman Michael Briggs after the AP alert declaring Clinton’s victory first landed.
“She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then. They include more than 400 superdelegates who endorsed Secretary Clinton 10 months before the first caucuses and primaries and long before any other candidate was in the race. Our job from now until the convention is to convince those super delegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.”
As Californians woke up Tuesday while voters in New Jersey started going to the polls and residents of New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana prepped to mark their own ballots, the Sanders camp showed no signs of changing its tune.
“Let those people vote and decide before the media tells them that the race is over,” Jeff Weaver told CNN Tuesday. “What’s the point of suppressing voter turnout in six states across the country to have a quick news hit that could easily have been done tonight?”
“They are suppressing the vote in the most vile, vicious way I’ve seen establishment media do, and the fact that the Clinton campaign is giddy about it because [sic] what they should be doing is be out there saying, ‘don’t do that, don’t call this race. There’s still other states that have yet to vote.’ Be true to what they have been saying on TV which is she’s competing for every last vote,” said Turner. “It’s obvious that that’s not the truth.”
The senator isn’t expected to directly address the matter until his election night rally, which will likely not begin until late in the evening on the West Coast — in the early hours of the morning in the East.
For months Sanders has maintained that he will stay in the race until the convention in Philadelphia, and his aides’ sense of frustration with the early race call was palpable on Monday night, as they tried to puzzle through what it would mean for turnout in California’s primary — on which Sanders has pinned most of his hopes. A win in this state where he’s been campaigning hard for two straight weeks, he has long said, would give him the ability to make a convincing case to the superdelegates that he is the right candidate to take on Trump.
But not one of the hundreds of superdelegates he would need has flipped, and the effects of Monday’s announcement on the Tuesday contests — especially California, the biggest delegate prize on the Democratic nomination calendar — were unclear in the early hours of the day on the West Coast.
“I thought it was a pretty sneaky prediction,” said Larry Taylor, a Sanders superdelegate and Oregon Democratic committeeman. “If I was in California I would be a little offended by it and it would make me march to the polls all that much more strongly if I was a Sanders supporter. And there’s the Clinton fear that, ‘oh well, election’s in the bank, we don’t need to vote.’ So it could go a number of ways.”
Clinton’s team recently redoubled its own efforts in California in an attempt to deprive Sanders the chance to win and thus make the six weeks between today and the convention uncomfortable. In her two public events after the race was called on Monday night, Clinton stressed that it’s imperative that voters still play their part on Tuesday and go to the polls. Clinton’s camp is eager to win a majority of pledged delegates, to take some of the shine off Sanders’ case that he is truly the best candidate.
After weeks of grumbling about how turnout would be suppressed if the national press effectively declared the race over, Sanders’ camp blasted out a mobilization email at 10:45 P.M. Pacific time urging backers to stick to the plan.
“Tuesday marks the largest set of primaries and caucuses in the Democratic nomination process with six states voting for president and 694 delegates up for grabs. Pundits and the political press want to call this race before every last person votes,” wrote campaign manager Jeff Weaver. “That threatens to suppress voter turnout in New Jersey, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and New Mexico. But we’re not going to let that happen.”
Sanders’ New Jersey chairman John Wisniewski, a superdelegate backing Sanders, insisted Tuesday it’s too early to call the race.
“There’s over 600 delegates that will be decided today, elected delegates and Sen. Sanders is doing very well in California and I think he’ll do better than expectations here in New Jersey so we ought to wait and see until all of the elected delegates are finished before we start saying the race is over,” he said.
Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.