Is Bernie Sanders on the Verge of a Big Upset in the California Primary?

Would a win in California be a game changer for Bernie Sanders? Or does it not matter? (Dieter Holger)

This Tuesday, June 7th, is the last big day of the presidential primaries. It's the final showdown for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. California, New Jersey, New Mexico, and North and South Dakota are all voting. The biggest prize is the California primary, with 546 delegates at stake.

Where Sanders stands in the California primary

For months, it has looked like Clinton would walk away with California. Until the end of April, Sanders was polling in the 30's. But he's been gaining steam, and a couple of polls show them almost even.

He's been barnstorming across the state. And there's a lot of energy--and a lot of people--at his rallies, like one this week in the progressive coastal college town Santa Cruz on the Central Coast.

Interestingly, when Clinton appeared at Hartnell College in Salinas last week, not far from Santa Cruz, she met both supporters and anti-feminist protesters.

Sanders supporters filled the 2,505 capacity Kaiser Permanente Stadium to the brim. And around 2,000 supporters overflowed outside the venue.

Sanders likes to hold big rallies, while Clinton favors smaller, more intimate events.

Sometimes his events get a little rowdy.

More on rallies in a sec.

What Bernie is saying in California

In Santa Cruz, Sanders warned his supporters to ignore the media who, he expects, will declare Clinton the winner of the nomination after the June 7th primary results come in.

Here's the math on that:

- Including superdelegates, Clinton is a mere 71 delegates short of winning the nomination, and Sanders is 837 away.
- If you don't count superdelegates at all, she needs 614 more pledged delegates to win, and he needs 882.
- With superdelegates, there are 806 delegates at stake on June 7th, plus 67 on June 5th in Puerto Rico and 45 on June 14th in Washington DC.

At the rally, Sanders said probably neither candidate will receive the requisite 2,383 pledged delegates to win the nomination and that Clinton will likely need superdelegates to go over the top.

The Vermont Senator also attacked the superdelegate system, suggesting it should be overhauled at the upcoming convention:

"Before the first ballot was cast in Iowa, she had had all of the superdelegates on board. That is an absurd system, and together we are going to change that system."

Will Bernie Sanders successfully overhaul the superdelegate system? (Dieter Holger)

Sanders asked the rally how many people had gone to a Democratic Party meeting before, claiming he'd "never asked this question before." Only a few dozen hands shot up. He said this sends a message to the Democratic Party:

"I would say about 3% of the people here. I understand why that is the case. The message to the Democratic leadership is to be party of working people and young people and the middle class--they got to the open up the doors!"

Why Sanders' big rallies don't mean big wins

Sanders has become known for attracting major rallies this election season. The largest rally Barack Obama held in 2008 was in New York's Washington Square Park, where at least 24,000 people showed. In comparison, Sanders attracted 27,000 people at the same park before the New York primary (not to mention, 28,000 at Prospect Park in Brooklyn). Still, Sanders lost the New York primary to Clinton.

In California, Sanders held a massive rally in Oakland with as many as 60,000 people.

Though be wary of memes about events like this that use photos from other events.

But do the size of Bernie's rallies even matter?

Rally size doesn't correlate to votes: Clinton leads Sanders in the popular vote by roughly 3 million.

There's a few reasons why:

1. Many Sanders supporters aren't registered Democrats and can't participate in all primaries.

Sanders does exceptionally well among independent voters compared to Clinton, but she does better with registered Democrats. It makes sense a lot of the people showing up to Sanders' events aren't Democrats. Three Democratic primaries Sanders won--Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin--allowed independents to participate.

One of Sanders' goals is to reform the Democratic Party to open up all the primaries and caucuses to non-Democrats.

2. Big rallies don't historically predict victories.

Former Texas Representative Ron Paul, a Republican and libertarian (and father of Senator Rand Paul, who ran for the Republican nomination this season), was a crowd favorite when he ran for president in 2012, holding bigger events than his rivals. But Paul finished far behind his competitors in the polls and dropped out.

3. The same people are showing up to Sanders' events.

In 2004, Howard Dean was the Democrat drawing huge crowds--but he ended up in third place in Iowa and his campaign fell apart shortly thereafter. Dean says he started seeing a lot of the same faces at his events, and he thinks the same is happening to Sanders:

"Some of the crowd size is people who come because they love Bernie and they want to hear this message and it invigorates them and they keep doing it and they follow him around just like [fans of] the Grateful Dead or Phish."

Does it even matter if Bernie Sanders wins California?

It's tight in Cali. Clinton is on a five-day swing across the state after appearances in New Jersey. Sanders hasn't left the Golden State for over a week.

Sanders basically told his rally in Santa Cruz that if he wins all the upcoming primaries he'll win the nomination:


"If we win here in the largest state in our country, if we win on June 7th in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey--and if we win the following week in Washington DC and Puerto Rico we are going to be marching into the Democratic Convention with incredible momentum, and we will march out with the Democratic nomination."

That's not quite accurate.

Clinton currently leads Sanders by 269 pledged delegates, so Sanders needs to take 68% of the pledged delegates left to overtake her. And he's not ahead of her in the polls by anywhere near that amount. In fact, she's ahead of him.

If Bernie does win in California, what happens?

If Sanders pulls off an upset in California--and maybe wins other states on June 7th--he'll enter July's Democratic National Convention with leverage to influence party policy and contest the nomination. He currently enjoys 46% of the Democratic Party's pledged delegates.

He hopes to win the majority of pledged delegates so he can win over superdelegates (party insiders who officially vote at the convention for whoever they want):

"It is a steep hill to climb, and I acknowledge that, but we have the possibility of walking into the Democratic convention with a majority of pledged delegates."

Does he really still have a shot at the nomination? (Dieter Holger)

If she doesn't win enough pledged delegates between now and the convention, Clinton will need superdelegates to put her over the 2,383 magic number needed for the nomination--and she'll probably get them.

62 of California's 73 superdelegates have already said they'll vote for Clinton. And it's unlikely Sanders will be able to convince the over 500 other superdelegates pledged to Clinton, many of them Democratic loyalists with ties to her, to jump ship for an independent who trails by a lot in the overall popular vote.

And if Sanders does pull off victory in California? It probably wouldn't devastate Clinton anyway. In 2008, Clinton won California but Barack Obama still walked away with the nomination.

Californians: If you're registered as either Democrat or "no party preference," you can vote on June 7th. The deadline to register for the primary passed on May 23rd.

This article was written by Dieter Holger and originally appeared on Kicker. Kicker explains the most important, compelling things going on in the world and empowers you to get in the know, make up your own mind, and take action. For more, check out the Kicker site, like their Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter.