So What Happens If Hillary Loses California?

Could a Sanders Win Out West Cause a Fatal Chain Reaction?

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At this point the Hillary Clinton campaign is surely freaking out over the possibility that she might lose California to Bernie Sanders. As NBC News reports today, Secretary Clinton is "clinging to a narrow two-point lead over Bernie Sanders in California ahead of the state's June 7 primary," per the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll.

Hillary Clinton at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Hillary Clinton at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Proportional allocation of delegates means that Sanders could edge out Clinton in California and she'd still technically remain far ahead of him in overall delegates. But even a squeaker of a win by Sanders would likely ensure that he'd stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention next month -- noisily continuing his fight against the party machine that's been organized around the presumed coronation of Hillary Clinton for, well, years now.

A loss to Sanders would not only be an obvious psychological blow to the Clinton campaign, but some observers are now suggesting that it could actually imperil her nomination -- current delegate math notwithstanding. Mal Sirit of The Independent of Britain offers this bracing analysis in a post titled "US election 2016: Why Hillary Clinton could lose the Democratic nomination to Bernie Sanders" published this morning:

Mr. Sanders will be looking to the state [of California] to boost his campaign with news of a further 1.5 million people registering to vote since January this year. ... The influx of additional registrants -- a 218 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2012 -- is likely to include large numbers of young voters. ... Recent open primaries have shown that the Vermont senator tends to underperform in pre-election surveys and over-perform on primary and caucus days, thanks to the participation of new registrants and young voters.

A California win, Sirit reasons,

...would seriously call into question Ms Clinton's candidacy in the general election and could result in a number of superdelegates, including distinguished party leaders and elected officials who are free to support any candidate for the presidential nomination, withdrawing their support.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Douglas E. Schoen suggests Sanders himself could help shift the balance of superdelegates' power:

Democratic superdelegates -- chosen by the party establishment and overwhelmingly backing Mrs. Clinton, 543-44 -- would seriously question whether they should continue to stand behind her candidacy. There is every reason to believe that at the convention Mr. Sanders will offer a rules change requiring superdelegates to vote for the candidate who won their state's primary or caucus. A vote on that proposed change would almost certainly occur -- and it would function as a referendum on the Clinton candidacy.

And let's not forget the Trump factor: the presumptive Republican nominee grinding away at "Corrupt Hillary" day in and day out leading up to the Democratic National Convention in July, bellowing ever more loudly and insistently about her being a "failed candidate" if she does, in fact, stumble in California.

Or even if she doesn't.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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