Democratic voters had a message for Hillary Clinton on Saturday: It’s not over yet.
The front-runner may possess a substantial lead, support from elected officials, and the backing of the party establishment. But in the three states where voters caucused on Saturday, they cast their ballots for Bernie Sanders by huge margins. In Hawaii, with most votes tallied, he chalked up 71 percent; in Washington, he held 73 percent; and in Alaska, he claimed 82 percent support.
Clinton has, in recent months, embraced many elements of Sanders’s platform. She’s adopted the language of intersectional politics. She’s echoed his skepticism of trade deals. She’s insisted she’ll be tougher on Wall Street than he’d be. But so far, at least, she’s had little success in winning over his supporters, and she’s struggled to inspire a similar degree of enthusiasm among her own backers.
Sanders’s voters seem undeterred by Clinton’s advantages. “I feel like probably for the first time since I’ve been voting I connect with somebody I really believe in and that I trust,” one supporter told the Seattle Times. Saturday’s vote suggests she’s not alone. Party officials in Washington said that at least 225,000 voters showed up, rivaling the record turnout of 2008; the 10,600 who voted in Alaska exceeded that state’s 2008 tally; and the 33,716 in Hawaii, while below the 2008 level, included 7,000 new Democrats registered since late last year.
Sanders won from wall to wall. He took every county in Washington, and in Alaska, he posted double-digit margins in all 40 districts.
Primary day found an ebullient Sanders addressing an enormous crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, where the next contest on the Democratic calendar takes place on April 5th. “Don’t let anybody tell you we can’t win the nomination or win the general election,” Sanders roared. “We’re going to do both of those things.”
Most insurgent candidates garner more enthusiasm than dollars, and struggle to find enough resources to compete across the map. That’s not a problem for Sanders. In January, he stunned political observers by outraising Clinton, pulling in $20 million to her $15 million. She did twice as well the next month, raising $30 million, only to find that Sanders had brought in an astonishing $43.5 million. More impressively still, Sanders has raised those astronomical sums mostly by relying on small-dollar donations.
There’s every reason to believe that Saturday’s triumphs will produce a fresh infusion of cash. Candidates tend to find principled reasons to keep running so long as they have the resources to do so; they tend to find equally principled reasons to withdraw once their checks start bouncing. By that measure, the Sanders campaign is far from finished.
Clinton entered the night some 300 pledged delegates ahead of Sanders, a margin built mostly by winning big in southern states. Before tonight, Sanders’s wins had mostly come in smaller states, or in contests like Michigan, where Clinton stayed close. That’s what made his victory in Washington not just impressive, but important. Sanders won across the state, and seems likely to take the lion’s share of its 101 pledged delegates, narrowing Clinton’s lead significantly.
Her supporters point to her commanding lead among the party’s superdelegates—the party insiders and elected officials who will make the trip to Philadelphia without being bound by the results of primaries. But that’s not how Clinton wants to win the nomination, and if it came down to it, many of them might hesitate to overturn the decision of the pledged delegates.
Although he narrowed Clinton’s lead, though, Sanders has yet to alter the underlying dynamics of the race—something he must do if he still hopes to secure the party’s nomination. He performs best in states like those that voted today—those which hold caucuses and not primaries, and in which black and Hispanic voters comprise only a small portion of the Democratic electorate. But that won’t be enough to close the gap with Clinton, unless he can broaden his appeal.
Polls show Clinton and Sanders in a tight battle in Wisconsin, which holds its primary a week from Tuesday. It’s the sort of state that Sanders must not merely win, but win by a large enough margin to continue to erode Clinton’s lead. “With your support coming here in Wisconsin, we have a path toward victory,” he told the crowd in Madison. And on Saturday night, at least, that sounded plausible.