Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd of supporters at the Mayo Civic Center on February 27, 2016 in Rochester, MN.
(photo credit: STEPHEN MATUREN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
DENVER – Bernie Sanders could hit his political ceiling when his fight for the US Democratic presidential nomination goes national on Tuesday.
The independent Jewish senator from Vermont faces an unfriendly map: Eleven states will vote on “Super Tuesday,” the biggest single-day haul of delegates toward the party’s national convention, and only three appear competitive for him.
Furthermore, he enters the primaries’ most important day of voting after his competitor, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has already won three out of the four initial nominating contests: Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.
Sanders’s home state is expected to deliver him a decisive win on Tuesday, although his small northeastern stronghold offers only 16 delegates. More important to the Sanders campaign are victories in delegate-rich Colorado and Minnesota, where the self-identified democratic socialist has been aggressively campaigning for months.
The contests in both states – considered bellwethers for the November general election – are caucuses, where voter enthusiasm often drives candidates to victory. That will help him here, where young Coloradans have been rallying to the senator’s cause of a “political revolution” in large numbers.
Sanders has outspent Clinton here for the lion’s share of the state’s 66 delegates by nearly two to one, and will rely on young voters in Denver and Boulder – large university towns known for their political activism.
At a café off Denver’s Larimer Street, television screens offer the product of Sanders’s efforts, repeating his sunny advertisements on a regular basis. The senator returned to the state to campaign in Fort Collins on Sunday, reflecting the importance to his campaign of a win here and his effort to drive up enthusiasm statewide.
But the sort of grassroots campaigning that drove him to a victory in New Hampshire, and to a virtual tie with Clinton in Iowa, does not apply to this stage of the race, where television and social media messaging is the only feasible way to reach millions of voters across the US.
Victories in Colorado and Minnesota may buoy Sanders past Tuesday. But the map does not get any easier for him – nor does the delegate count, as Clinton prepares for major victories in Texas, New York, California, Illinois, Florida and much of the rest of the American South.
Should Clinton perform merely as well as she did in 2008 against then-senator Barack Obama, she is on track to win both the popular vote and the pledged delegate count – plus the “super delegates” count (party elders free to vote as they choose at the Democratic National Convention in July) – to clinch the nomination.
Simply winning the race for pledged delegates appears well within her ability.
And her campaign aides say that she has, in any event, already sewn up the support of more than 400 super delegates.
On Sunday, Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Tulsi Gabbard resigned from her post on Sunday to endorse Sanders, following months of rising tensions within the group.
"I think it's most important for us, as we look at our choices as to who our next commander in chief will be, is to recognize the necessity to have a commander in chief who has foresight, who exercises good judgment," Gabbard, a US representative for Hawaii, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Sanders has no endorsements from any of his colleagues in the US Senate.
He is the first Jewish candidate to have won a presidential primary and to have pledged delegates to a party convention.