California Is Not Make-Or-Break For Bernie Sanders, Believe It Or Not

On Tuesday, voters in the Golden State will be heading to the polls to cast their votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, although it's really only still a race on one side. Republican nominee-in-waiting Donald J. Trump cinched his side of the race last month, and although Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is up big in pledged delegates and the popular vote alike (only the delegates matter for getting the nomination), Vermont senator Bernie Sanders isn't conceding anything. So, here's the question: is California make-or-break for Bernie Sanders, on can Clinton survive yet another upset loss?

Well, here's your simple answer: no, it's not a make-or-break moment for Sanders, mainly because he'll probably stay in even if he loses ― at least, if you believe what he's been saying. He's repeatedly pledged to stay in the race until everyone has had a chance to cast their votes, and contests will continue through the Washington, D.C. primary on June 14. He's also suggested he wants to take his candidacy all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July.

Even more significantly, though, it's not a make-or-break moment because Sanders has effectively been toast for weeks. He currently trails Clinton by 268 pledged delegates, with just nine contests left on the calendar. And while the massive trove of 546 delegates up for grabs in California makes it seem like a comeback could be possible, that would require an absolute landslide ― the Democrats award their delegates proportionally, meaning a narrow win for either candidate would merely split the total.

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Basically, unless Sanders wins California in a decisive blowout of the 20 to 30 to 40 point variety (which not even his most favorable polls in the state suggest is even remotely close to coming true) he's not going to make it out of California with his pledged delegate deficit looking all that different than it does now. In recent weeks Sanders and his campaign have been teasing making an electability argument to the Democratic superdelegates, but if he's still running behind Clinton by hundreds of pledged delegates, that's just not going to work ― they've never in their history supported a candidate who'd otherwise be running in second-place.

There is one small way in which Sanders has something on the line on Tuesday, though: the perception that his campaign is cresting at the right time, and is still a threat to topple Clinton. Given the current state of the delegate math, this has been a kind of smoke-and-mirrors game on Sanders' part for weeks, but it's been fueled by the fact that he is still running competitively around the country, and has won his share of contests (although he's heavily dependent on states that use less-democratic caucus systems, and there's reason to believe this may be artificially inflating his success).

If Sanders were edged out by Clinton after all that, it'd be a big blow to his messaging as much as anything else. But the messaging does matter as far as how much influence and political capital Sanders can hang on to, so rest assured you'll want to keep an eye on what happens on Tuesday.