These 3 choices will most shape the Clinton vs. Trump race

On June 7, after millions of phone calls, thousands of ads and hundreds of speeches, television networks will name Hillary Clinton the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. The call will come after New Jersey closes its polls, even before Californians finish voting, and a week before the year’s final primary. Accompanied by rousing music, an image of Clinton will appear on the screen, identifying her and naming her achievement.

It takes no crystal ball to predict this. On June 3, 2008, Barack Obama was pronounced the nominee after the polls closed in South Dakota. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer announced that, “even though we cannot project” the winner in that state, due to Democrats allocating delegating proportionately, Obama “goes over the threshold” and “he will be the Democratic presidential nominee.”

As then, next week’s delegate tallies will include pledged delegates, those allocated based on choices made in primaries and caucuses, along with superdelegates, who have always voted for the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates.

What comes next will matter.

First, Bernie Sanders must decide how and when to end his campaign. At times, Sanders has set specific metrics, such as winning most pledged delegates, which would happen if he won nearly 70 percent of the remaining delegates. But other times Sanders has been less exact, saying he could go on if he did “really well in California and the other five states and in the other nonstate primaries.”

Sanders has also said he might seek the nomination at the convention even without winning most delegates from primaries and caucuses. Asking superdelegates to pick him after most people chose Clinton would go against historic precedent and won’t succeed. Moreover, Sanders and his allies earlier wanted superdelegates to ratify the people’s choice. Pursuing this strategy also undermines efforts like the one by Maine Democrats Diane Russell and Troy Jackson, both Sanders supporters, to end superdelegates for future contests.

On Sunday, Sanders said the nomination fight was “not rigged,” but some of his backers feel otherwise. In actuality, different aspects of the contest helped one candidate or another. Sanders won most caucuses, which have low turnout and are generally held in small states, while Clinton won most primaries, which involve more people in larger states. The caucus advantage can be seen most starkly in Nebraska and Washington, which held caucuses that Sanders won and primaries that Clinton won.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate in March. Jim Young | Reuters

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate in March. Jim Young | Reuters

Sanders continually says he will work hard to keep Trump from the White House. It matters how Sanders eases his supporters’ qualms and disappointment. When she dropped out a few days after Obama clinched the nomination in 2008, Clinton praised Obama and asked her supporters to vote and work for him.

Second, how Democrats go forward will be influenced by what Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton do in handling party operations. So far these interactions have been sometimes smooth, sometimes choppy.

Bernie Sanders has energized young voters in particular and highlighted important issues. He’s earned influence over the platform. Recognizing that, the party granted Sanders what reporter Anne Gearan characterized as “unprecedented say over the Democratic Party platform.”

Another request Sanders made, removing Clinton supporters Barney Frank and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy from convention leadership positions, was turned down. Future disagreements will arise, but it’s hard to imagine that people representing a sitting U.S. senator and a former secretary of state won’t be able to negotiate compromises.

Sanders’ ability to affect the party platform demonstrates he has delivered on his promise of change and helps heal party rifts.

Third, for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, how they operate their campaigns will matter.

Donald Trump addresses motorcyclists participating in Rolling Thunder, the annual ride around Washington Mall to raise awareness for prisoners of war and soldiers still missing in action, on Sunday. James Lawler Duggan | Reuters

Donald Trump addresses motorcyclists participating in Rolling Thunder, the annual ride around Washington Mall to raise awareness for prisoners of war and soldiers still missing in action, on Sunday. James Lawler Duggan | Reuters

Trump recently fired his national political director, some campaign staffers are feeling paranoid and “believe their Trump Tower offices in New York may be bugged,” and the Trump campaign has not hired a full-time communications director. Trump wants to target New York and California, states Republicans have not won for decades, even though his campaign has little organization in swing states.

In contrast, Clinton has a large team of campaign professionals and is training volunteers how to organize voters in their neighborhoods. In Ohio, a key swing state, former Sanders staff members are part of the Democratic Party’s campaign operation. While superior organizing only goes so far, Clinton’s choices, along with her current lead in poll averages, make her the general election frontrunner.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.