Bernie Sanders Won Indiana, Now What?

Sanders’ win shows Clinton still has a long road ahead.

May 04, 2016, 4:16 PM

— -- The Republican primary may be all but over, but across the aisle, voters in Indiana seemed to say the Democratic race should continue.

By winning at least 37 additional pledged delegates in Indiana, Hillary Clinton made it mathematically impossible for Sanders to clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone. So far, Clinton has landed 92 percent of the delegates needed to secure the nomination, meaning the fact that Sanders took the Hoosier state will likely do little to change the eventual outcome of the Democratic race. Still, it may be a sign of Clinton’s long road ahead.

When asked directly how his win could change the dynamics of the race, Bernie Sanders acknowledged late Tuesday night that it was mostly symbolic.

“It’s going to give us a great deal of momentum,” he said. While he did not win Indiana by the kind decisive margin he would need to significantly cut into Clinton’s delegate lead, he said, “it’s a start.”

On a day-to-day level, the win validates Sanders' plans to stay in the race until every state votes. In the next few days, Sanders will continue to stump in Kentucky and West Virginia, which vote later this month.

On the one hand, his persistent campaigning in primary states, coupled with the efforts of large progressive organizations backing him, puts Clinton in a tough spot. Eager to pivot to the November contest, Clinton’s campaign is beefing up staffing in crucial general election states like New Hampshire and Colorado and vetting potential picks for her vice presidential running mates. Her team has begun to prioritize battleground states such as Ohio in her travel schedule and say they are no longer using advertising dollars to target primary states.

But they know they must be cautious, too. If it pivots too quickly, the Clinton campaign runs the risk of alienating grassroots mobilizers on the left who say Sanders’ ideas are winning the day. After all, younger voters and Democrats who consider themselves liberal overwhelmingly chose Sanders again in Indiana, revealing some of Clinton’s ongoing weaknesses. According to ABC News exit poll data, Sanders won young, white voters under 45 years old by a margin of 78-to-22 percent.

So far, the campaign’s strategy has been not to call on Sanders to leave the race. Clinton, her aides and her surrogates are all conveying that message. Clinton dodged a question this week during an interview with MSNBC about whether Sanders was hurting the party.

“We're going to be absolutely focused on making our case to the American public against Donald Trump and I think he will be a part of that,” she said.

Others make a case that Sanders' run continues to benefit the party and even Clinton herself. Recent polling shows that a majority of Democrats, not just Sanders supporters, want the Vermont senator to stay in the race, saying it will make the eventual nominee stronger.

Ben Wilker, Washington director for MoveOn, which is supporting Sanders, told ABC News that in their view, a better, sharper Democratic platform will give people more reason to vote in November and that the conversation about Democratic issues and efforts to sign up volunteers, knock on doors and campaign in the primary will only help build a machine needed for the general election.

“Bernie is also punching back at Trump,” Wilker said, positing that in some ways it could be helpful for Democrats to have two candidates against one actively campaign. “He is energizing Democrats and that is a good thing.”

As for concerns that Sanders' campaign is giving Trump ammunition and delaying a needed reconciliation of the Democratic Party, Wilker noted, “I don’t think Democrats are going to be fooled into supporting Donald Trump later on.”

"If the net effect of a competitive primary is that Democrats have a a louder megaphone when speaking to voters on key economic populism issues, that will increase the chance of victory for Democrats in November," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Sanders has argued that he is the better candidate to take on Trump and that this is one of the reasons the party’s superdelegates should change their mind and back him. However, according to ABC News’ exit polling data, 54 percent of Democratic voters in Indiana thought Clinton would have a better chance at defeating Trump.

Ironically, his more populist campaign now finds itself in desperate need of those party elites who will have their own vote at the convention in July. To date, no superdelegates have publicly switched from backing Clinton to backing Sanders. Instead, Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver said during interviews overnight that they are mostly focused on convincing the remaining “uncommitted” superdelegates to stand in Sanders’ corner.

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