Why Bernie Sanders Thinks He Can Still Win

Bernie Sanders sees a path forward to the Democratic nomination, whether it's through pledged delegates or superdelegates, his campaign said Monday. Mike Blake/Reuters

Updated | Bernie Sanders isn't giving up.

Victories in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska over the weekend have buoyed the independent Vermont senator's flagging presidential campaign. "Reports of our death are greatly exaggerated," campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Monday. "We are certainly in this to win it, and there is a path to do so."

Maybe. On Saturday, Sanders picked up 55 delegates to Clinton's 20. It was a small gain for Sanders, who trails Clinton by more than 260 in pledged delegates and by nearly 500 in so-called "superdelegates," Democratic Party leaders who are free to support whichever candidate they choose.

But the Sanders campaign hopes his strong showing in recent contests, coupled with polls showing him outperforming Clinton in a general election matchup with a Republican, will convince those superdelegates—elected Democrats and party officials—to cross over to Sanders.

"It's very important for Democratic voters and superdelegates to really understand how Bernie matches up against Donald Trump compared to Clinton," pollster Ben Tulchin says. "A consistent pattern" has emerged in recent months "that Sanders runs much better than Clinton in a general election against Donald Trump," he adds. "Bernie is the most popular candidate in either party running for president right now."

Both Clinton's and Trump's unfavorables are higher than their favorables, according to HuffPost Pollster.

Even without the support of superdelegates, the Sanders campaign has a path to victory, says campaign strategist Tad Levine. To pass Clinton in pledged delegates, Sanders is "obviously going to have to win most states coming up," he says, adding, "We're going to have to win states by large margins."

So far, Sanders has won 12 states with more than 60 percent of the vote, and six with more than 70 percent of the vote. Clinton, meanwhile, has won 10 states with more than 60 percent of the vote and five states with more than 70 percent of the vote. And Sanders has picked up a geographically diverse collection of states, while Clinton's biggest wins have been in the South. According to Levine, this means that while Clinton may be the "clear front-runner," she has emerged as a "weak front-runner," less able than Sanders to endure a bruising general election race against Trump.

"I believe when we look back on it, March 15 will be the high watermark for delegates for her," Levine says.

The Sanders campaign also addressed the claim that it does better among white voters than nonwhites. "Bernie has made tremendous progress with voters of color," Tulchin says. "When we started out, we were not as familiar with African-Americans and Latinos." But to compete in New York state, where Sanders was born and Clinton was a senator, "we're going to have to introduce Bernie to voters of color," he notes. "African-Americans are very loyal Democratic voters. If it comes to a general election matchup between Bernie and any Republican, they'll be there for us."

Still, with the numbers being what they are, Sanders would need a major collapse of confidence in Clinton in diverse states like New York and California to overcome her delegate lead. Or, as Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson said later on Monday, "there simply isn't enough real estate" left for Sanders to close the gap with Clinton. The state of New York, where Sanders was born and Clinton as a senator, is one of the biggest pieces of real estate left, and Benenson anticipates a competitive race there, but thinks Clinton will come out on top. "I think he's going to campaign like a Brooklynite, and she's going to campaign like a senator," she said.