- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On paper, California would seem to be a dream state for Sen. Bernard Sanders, but he is struggling to close a gap with Hillary Clinton in the state, weighed down by his poor showing with minority voters and by a backlash to his campaign’s provocative behavior over the past few weeks.

Left with just a slim path to winning the state, Mr. Sanders has become all the more vehement in his attacks on the Democratic Party, with his supporters even sending threats to the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party after they felt snubbed at the state’s convention this month.

Analysts say the growing sense that Mr. Sanders is prolonging a race he has no hope of winning may be turning off some voters and could be to blame for the fact that he is trailing Mrs. Clinton by a significant margin, according to polls.

“I think the recent events with Sen. Sanders make him look more like spoiler than advocate. The Nevada business was not good for him,” said Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, and a former consultant to the Bill Clinton and Al Gore presidential campaigns. “California is a place where people want to win in November. It’s a very good sign for Clinton if [Mr. Sanders] loses badly, because it means Democrats are more concerned about Trump than the differences” between the two Democrats.

All recent surveys show Mr. Sanders behind in California. A Real Clear Politics average of all California polls — which includes surveys dating back to last year — gives Mrs. Clinton a 9.5-percentage-point advantage.

Only one poll has been conducted since Sanders supporters disrupted the Nevada convention this month. The KABC/SurveyUSA poll gives Mrs. Clinton a whopping 18-point lead, lending at least some credence to the theory that recent events are driving Democrats away from Mr. Sanders and toward the former secretary of state.

Beyond that, analysts say, there are deeper, more fundamental issues at play in California, most notably Mr. Sanders‘ continued struggles with minority voters.

Throughout the primary process, the senator has relied largely on white voters for his victories, while Mrs. Clinton has racked up huge margins with blacks and Hispanics. In that regard, California certainly could be considered Clinton country.

Hispanic and black voters make up about 45 percent of the California population. Whites make up about 38 percent, according to Census Bureau figures.

“The demographic makeup of the state [is] much more favorable to Clinton,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Pennsylvania’s Franklin and Marshall College.

Still, the Sanders campaign clearly is ready for a fight in California, and the senator has indicated he will press ahead all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July, regardless of what happens in the June 7 California contest.

Mr. Sanders this week debuted a California ad that, once again, pokes Mrs. Clinton on her close ties to Wall Street and hints to progressives that she isn’t a true champion for their most important causes.

“What choice do Californians have in this election?” Mr. Sanders says in the ad. “The biggest one of all. You have the power to choose a new direction for the Democratic Party. To break the back of a corrupt system of campaign finance that keeps a rigged economy in place. To stand up to Wall Street and make the wealthy pay their fair share. To fight for tuition-free public colleges and universities.”

The Sanders campaign previously ran ads in California taking aim at Mrs. Clinton’s high-priced fundraisers — including an event at the home of George Clooney — and contrasted those with the small donations Mr. Sanders has relied on.

Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, is all but ignoring the looming California contest and is instead focusing on a November matchup with Republican Donald Trump. She already has declared herself the party’s inevitable nominee, and the delegate math seems to back up her claim.

As of Wednesday, she had 2,305 delegates to Mr. Sanders‘ 1,539, according to an Associated Press tally. The figures include party superdelegates who are free to support either candidate.

In California, 548 delegates will be at stake in the June 7 primary. Of those, 475 will be awarded through voting, though the party’s proportional allocation system means Mr. Sanders would have to win by a big margin to make any sizable dent in Mrs. Clinton’s lead.

The other 73 are superdelegates, and of those, at least 61 already have come out in favor of Mrs. Clinton.

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