David Plouffe
Mar 28, 2016 · 4 min read

How can Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner and close to presumptive nominee lose five of the six last contests? Doesn’t that suggest the race could somehow be changing and Bernie Sanders now has a shot?


In fact, Hillary Clinton has strengthened her hold on the nomination in the most recent contests. Because for every state that holds a contest, more delegates come off the board, and the percentage of remaining delegates Sanders has to win grows larger. The hill Bernie Sanders has to climb becomes more and more steep. Like a sheer, rock cliff.

Ok you say. We get that Clinton has built a strong delegate lead. But she should be able to close this out with more strength, winning the vast majority of the remaining states. And if she doesn’t, it shows weakness for the general election.

Well, let’s just look back eight years. Barack Obama is in the final year of his two term Presidency, becoming just the sixth President to win office by securing 51% of the vote twice (Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were the others).

At this time eight years ago, he too had an all but insurmountable delegate lead.

But in the last 9 contests, we lost 6 of them. Now, we had some issues like Rev Wright we were fighting thru. And Hillary Clinton campaigned admirably. But we predicted those losses long before based on the results we were seeing in the earlier primaries and caucuses. Even as we were moving towards the nomination, and ultimately the Presidency, we knew we would lose a bunch of states in the latter part of the primary calendar. Some suggested it showed weakness or would hurt us in the general.

History suggests otherwise.

Ted Kennedy won five of the eight contests on the final day of the 1980 primary, including California. But Jimmy Carter won all four just the week before. What changed in one week? Nothing but demography.

And in 1992, the political world was aflutter when Jerry Brown won Connecticut and Vermont consecutively, suggesting somehow Bill Clinton whom lost early to Paul Tsongas was now facing a new, existential threat. No, just two good states for Jerry Brown amidst a sea of Clinton wins.

Every Presidential race, the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses are different. But today, with data advancements and especially in races with clear demographic trends, there are fewer surprises. It’s easier to predict not just who is going to win states, but by what rough margin and what delegate allocation will occur based on those results.

I believe Hillary Clinton has zero chance of not being the Democratic nominee. But she still is going to lose a bunch of states to Bernie Sanders the rest of the way into the clubhouse. Here’s my sense of how the race will play out from now to June.

There are 22 contests left. I would at this point predict Clinton wins 12 ( New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Guam, West Virginia, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, California, New Jersey and Washington D.C.)and Sanders wins 10 (Wyoming, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.)

Yes, he may very well win Wisconsin but the delegate yield will be minimal.

The most likely scenario that deviates from the above is Sanders wins a few more states, and ends up winning 12 or 13 of the final contests.

Even in a situation where Clinton wins states like CA and NY relatively narrowly, and Sanders wins states like Oregon and Wisconsin by 10 plus points, the most optimistic scenario for Sanders would be to net 30–40 total delegates in the remaining 22 contests.

The Clinton lead is almost 3oo in pledged delegates. And over 700 in total delegates. Clinton will end the primary, even if she underperforms the rest of the way, with a pledged delegate lead greater than Barack Obama’s in 2008.

And, no there is a zero percent chance the “super delegates” will somehow go against the will of the voters and choose the second place candidate. I find it hard to believe the Republican party leaders will take the nomination away from Trump in Cleveland, the GOP’s clear vote and delegate leader. But it’s not happening in Philadelphia

Still, closing by losing more states than you opponent. That won’t be a “fun” narrative moment. So what could she do to change that? Very little. Bernie Sanders is running a strong campaign, and both have clearly identifiable bases of support. Doing the math, it’s not that difficult to derive projected results.

The best you can hope is to over perform a bit here or there to secure an extra delegate or two in individual contests.

So as we follow each primary breathlessly and pundits assign outsized value to each of them and want to suggest momentum has changed this way or that, the reality is far less interesting. We for the most part this deep into the race already know what’s going to happen.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store