BURLINGTON, Vt. — Despite daunting delegate math, top advisers to Bernie Sanders said Wednesday morning that the Vermont senator would fight on until the summer — not to mount a quixotic “message” campaign, but with a plan to overtake Hillary Clinton.
“I know some people are ready to write this campaign off as a message campaign, but this is a campaign to win,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager. “The people of this country are standing behind us.”
Sanders won four of 11 Democratic nominating contests on Super Tuesday. Clinton claimed victory in the others, building on her wins in Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada, and putting her on an increasingly clear path to the nomination.
Weaver and senior strategist Tad Devine said they actively competed in only five Super Tuesday contests: Sanders’ home state of Vermont as well as Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Sanders lost the Massachusetts primary to Clinton by 2 percentage points.
“We shot for five. We got 4.9,” Weaver told reporters who crowded into Sanders’ Burlington campaign headquarters for a post-Super Tuesday briefing. “After the disappointment in South Carolina, I think what this campaign has demonstrated is that it still has the momentum. We are moving forward for the nomination.”
Weaver and Devine said they had expected to win as few as 300 delegates on Tuesday, which they said was packed with states especially favorable to Clinton based on demographics and electoral history. Sanders won 335 delegates by their count.
Clinton currently has 1,001 delegates, and Sanders has 371, according to an Associated Press tally. The eventual Democratic nominee will need 2,383 delegates to win. Part of Clinton’s massive lead includes her support from super delegates — party leaders and elected officials not tied to a specific primary or caucus result and who can decide on a candidate on the convention floor.
A student of delegate math and party rules, Devine said “simple arithmetic” appears to give Clinton a large lead, but he argued the nomination process is more complicated than that. Citing party rules, Devine said the Sanders campaign can still win over super and other delegates, who he said are “free to exercise their judgement” at the convention in a competitive race.
Sanders, Devine said, will also do well in the states that have yet to vote and will recover mathematically this spring.
In the next week, Maine, Nebraska, Louisiana, Kansas, Michigan, and Mississippi will hold nominating contests for Democrats. On March 15, there are primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. There are additional primaries in New York and California later this year.
“Yes, we’re behind,” Devine said. “She has a substantial advantage. We believe we can make that up between now and June. And we believe, and we have done some scenarios — as late as this morning — based on what we think we can do in upcoming states that will get us to a pledged delegate advantage by the time we finish voting in June.”
Devine said they do not expect to win “every state that comes up,” citing Florida’s closed-party primary as an example. Sanders has proved popular with independent voters who will not able to vote in Florida’s Democratic primary, where the electorate includes an older voting base with a history of supporting Clinton.