“There’s this misconception that somehow there’s this ‘Democratic leadership’ that decides the candidates,” Eleni Kounalakis, California’s lieutenant governor and a former ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration, as well as a major party donor, told me this afternoon after watching a big caucus site go for Sanders. Kounalakis, who’s a Pete Buttigieg supporter, had just seen another caucus site go for Sanders. “We don’t have a process to stop a candidate. What he’s running into is a ceiling that’s based on public opinion, not about leadership being against him.”
That hasn’t stopped Sanders from using a supposed party effort against him as a main talking point. Yesterday he tweeted: “I’ve got news for the Republican establishment. I’ve got news for the Democratic establishment. They can’t stop us.”
Read: The hidden history of Sanders’s plot to primary Obama
When Sanders started planning for this race two years ago, he told advisers that he believed the 43 percent of the vote he received against Hillary Clinton in 2016 was a starting point, and he would only gain support this time around. He dismissed suggestions that a significant level of his 2016 success had been driven by antipathy toward Clinton.
Emily’s List, the organization devoted to women’s political empowerment, uses two basic criteria for endorsements—being a woman and being pro-abortion-rights. If Senator Amy Klobuchar or Senator Elizabeth Warren were to drop out, Emily’s List would probably endorse the remaining woman almost immediately, the group’s top leaders have been saying privately. But neither is showing any signs of leaving the race, so the group has so far given $250,000 each to the super PACs supporting them. (Neither candidate even had a super PAC until a week ago, and both had spoken out against the very concept, but both have eagerly taken the financial backing they need to stay in the race.)
“Because they’re both running good campaigns, because they both have a credible path, and because they both would be good presidents,” Christina Reynolds, the vice president of communications at Emily’s List, told me, “we got in this week to support them both.”
Yes, only three states—two of them extremely white—have voted, but versions of this conversation are happening among all sorts of Democratic leaders.
So the remaining candidates leave Nevada all believing that they have a legitimate argument for staying in the race. With no one winning enough support to be considered a strong alternative to Sanders, and with expectations of a contested convention setting in, they’re all sticking around and amassing delegates in hopes of getting another shot at the nomination in Milwaukee in July.
Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, who came to Nevada to campaign for Warren, says he’d be fine with a scenario in which Democrats enter the summer without a nominee. “Remember, the full primary process includes the convention,” he told me.