While Bernie Sanders is vowing to fight for the Democratic nomination all the way to the convention, a Clinton campaign strategist says the Democratic primary is effectively over — and the only people who don’t realize that are a small group of Bernie Sanders die-hards.
“Here’s what’s not in doubt — that at some point Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton will have a majority of pledged delegates. No. 1, she’ll have a majority of delegates overall and a significant majority in the popular vote,” senior Clinton strategist Joel Benenson said in interview with Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the ABC News “Powerhouse Politics” podcast.
“That’s why everybody in the party, except for a small group of people, are acknowledging that she will be and is the presumptive nominee in the Democratic Party,” Benenson said.
Also on “Powerhouse Politics,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver sharply disagreed.
When asked if Tuesday is the unofficial end of the Democratic primary contest, Weaver said flatly, “No. Absolutely not.”
It is virtually certain Hillary Clinton will get the 2,383 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination by Tuesday. But, Weaver points out, that includes superdelegates – party leaders who get to vote however they want, regardless of how their states voted.
“Those superdelegates actually don’t vote until the convention,” he said.
“So it is true that a large number of superdelegates have publicly stated their support or privately pledged their support to Secretary Clinton, but they’re free to change their support between now and the convention,” Weaver said.
Changing the minds of those superdelegates will be the Sanders campaign’s primary goal between the end of formal primary voting and the convention at the end of July. Weaver said that process has already begun.
“We already have started making calls to talk to them about Sen. Sanders and ask them to take a look at the race as it stands now, as opposed to where it stood well over a year ago,” he said.
One of the arguments that the Sanders campaign is making to those superdelegates is that many surveys have shown that Sanders fares better Clinton in a matchup against Trump.
“The polling has been very, very consistent,” Weaver said, “that Bernie Sanders is a much stronger candidate against Donald Trump than Secretary Clinton.”
While the Sanders campaign is focused on wooing superdelegates between now and the convention, the Clinton campaign is shifting to general election mode.
“The issue going forward here is the contest is going to be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and we are making the case forcefully every day. And this is a choice that’s going to face the American voters,” Benenson said. “We have never had a candidate, I think, in our lifetimes who has been this unfit and this dangerous to the country’s security overseas and here at home.”
As ready as the Clinton campaign may be to focus completely on the general election and her contrasts with Trump, that can’t be done at full strength until the two Democratic campaigns have reconciled.
“The goal here is to unify coming out of California and the convention and run against someone who poses an enormous danger to this country,” Benenson said.
The goal is one that he conceded has yet to be achieved.
“We are not yet a unified party,” Benenson said. “We have time to do that. We take Sen. Sanders at his word that he will do everything to help defeat Donald Trump. That’s what we believe will happen coming out of California, going forward.”
But if Clinton is indeed the nominee, Weaver said, it will be incumbent on her to bridge the divide with Sanders supporters.
“There’s got to be a tremendous amount of outreach on the secretary’s part to reach out to that segment of the Democratic Party that, even if Sanders isn’t the nominee, is going to represent about half of the party,” Weaver said. “She’s going to have to reach out those people and really sort of bring them in.”