THE PUBLIC EYE: Bernie’s Last Stand: California’s June Primary

Bob Burnett
Friday April 22, 2016 - 11:27:00 AM

Improbably, it appears that the June 7th California primary will determine the nomination of both the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, and the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump. After winning the New York Democratic primary, Clinton has approximately 1930 delegates, 453 short of the magic number 2383. Unless Bernie Sanders stages an epic comeback, Clinton will cross the finish line in California. 

Before June 7th, there are 10 Democratic primaries. The largest of these is Pennsylvania with 189 pledged delegates and 21 super delegates. Assuming that Clinton and Sanders break even in these primaries, Clinton will be approximately 150 short by June 7th. 

California offers 548 delegates: 475 pledged delegates and 73 super delegates. The allocation process is byzantine: 317 district delegates will be pledged to Clinton or Sanders proportionally, based upon the primary results in each of the California’s 53 congressional districts. A further 158 delegates will be allocated based on statewide results. 

Current California polls show Clinton leading Sanders by 9.5 percent. However, there are three tactics that Sanders could follow to narrow this gap. 

Independents: Sanders has done well in contests where registered Independents can crossover and vote for him in the Democratic primary. This was not possible in the New York primary (nonetheless, exit polls showed that Sanders carried 72 percent of those Democrats who considered themselves to be Independent voters). 

As of January 5th, the California Secretary of State reported that 17,259,413 Californians had registered to vote (70.2 percent of those eligible) – by June 7th the number is expected to be significantly higher. So far, 43.1 percent have registered as Democrats, 27.6 percent as Republicans, 24 percent as “no party preference,” and 5.3 percent as “other” (American Independent, Green, Libertarian, or Peace & Freedom). Democrats permit voters with “no party preference” to vote in their primary – the California Public Policy Institute said that 37 percent of these voters are likely to vote Democratic. Still, “no party preference” voters will have to request a Democratic primary ballot. 

Unfortunately, there’s evidence that some erstwhile Sanders voters may have registered as “Independent” rather than “no party preference.” That won’t work on June 7th; in California that means you get to vote as an “American Independent.” 

Hispanics In New York, Clinton and Sanders split the white (non-Hispanic) vote. Clinton won because she carried the African American vote (75 percent) and the Hispanic vote (64 percent). 

Hispanics are a larger demographic factor in California. There are 14.3 million Hispanics in California, more than in any other state. (In the Golden State, Hispanics outnumber non-Hispanic whites.) 

The most recent California Public Policy Institute report indicates that white non-Hispanic voters are 48 percent of likely Democratic voters. Hispanics are 26 percent. Asian Americans are 13 percent. And, African Americans are 10 percent. (By the way, 15 of the 53 congressional districts are majority Hispanic and in another 9 districts Hispanics are more than 40 percent of potential voters.) 

Historically, Hispanic voters have not voted (until recently their participation rate was less than 50 percent). However, there is a new California voter registration process that should increase the Hispanic vote. 

In addition, Hispanic Democratic voters may turn out to support Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (CA 46) who is running for the Senate seat now occupied by Barbara Boxer. (The latest polls show Sanchez running slightly behind California Attorney General Kamala Harris.) 

On April 14th, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that California Hispanics (Latinos) are registering to vote in unprecedented numbers and this may be good news for Sanders: “’Something unusual is going on in the Latino community,” [California] Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said. ‘You’re seeing a reappraisal of Clinton vis-a-vis Sanders. Now it is up for grabs.’” 

Women The California Public Policy Institute noted that 57 percent of likely Democratic voters are women. If that’s true on June 7th, it’s a problem for Bernie Sanders. In New York, 59 percent of Democratic voters were women and 63 percent of them voted for Clinton. 

If Sanders is going to move the female vote, he will have to make inroads on her signature issues. In New York, these were gun control (60 percent of voters preferred Clinton) and experience (59 percent of voters preferred Clinton). 

At the moment, Hilary Clinton is favored to defeat Bernie Sanders in California’s June 7th Democratic Primary. To win, Sanders will have to woo “no party preference” voters as well as Hispanics and women. 

It would help if Sanders had a significant state endorsement. At the moment, all the major California Democrats have endorsed Clinton except for one: Governor Jerry Brown. If Brown endorsed Sanders, it would make a difference. Otherwise, the Golden State may be Bernie’s last stand. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at