Does Clinton's Nomination Hang On California?

by Morgan Brinlee

Although Democratic presidential primary appears nearly over talk of a contested convention still reigns. A series of primaries across six states Tuesday are expected to decide the Democratic nomination with frontrunner Hillary Clinton expected to pick up enough delegates to be named the party's nominee when polls close in New Jersey early in the evening. While New Jersey may be where the Democratic contest is decided, it's California's primary that has dominated headlines ahead of Tuesday's primaries. Recent polls out of the Golden State show it will likely be a tight race and Sen. Bernie Sanders has promised to continue his primary campaign should he win the state's primary. But is a contested convention imminent if Clinton loses California?

Through aggressive campaigning up and down the state, Sanders has managed to all but eliminate the double-digit lead Clinton had long held over him in California. The most recent polls out of the state show the frontrunner up just two points, with 49 percent to Sanders' 47. But it's unclear how much a win in California would benefit Sanders at this stage in the primary.

While a loss in delegate-rich California — the state sends 475 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, more than any other state — isn't likely to keep Clinton from earning the Democratic nomination, it could impact how long Sanders keeps his campaign running. Given Clinton's sizeable lead over Sanders in pledged delegates — she leads by 275 — and the Democrat's proportionate system of allocation, it seems mathematically impossible for the senator to not only catch but surpass his rival in pledged delegates. For this reason, Sanders has turned to a new strategy: flipping superdelegates.

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The Vermont senator is hoping a big win in the Golden State will give him grounds to try flipping superdelegates ahead of his party's nominating convention in Philadephia. "The Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention," the Vermont senator declared during a Los Angeles news conference Saturday. "Hillary Clinton will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to win the Democratic nomination at the end of the nominating process on June 14," he continued. "She will be dependent on superdelegates."

Following Clinton's win in the Virginia Islands Democratic caucus, the former secretary of State holds 1,776 pledged delegates going into Tuesday's primaries. It's Clinton's hefty share of superdelegates that puts her a few dozen delegates away from obtaining the 2,383 delegates required to clinch the nomination. Sanders, who's long suffered a shortage of superdelegates (he has just 46 compared to Clinton's 547), is hoping to lure enough of these votes away from Clinton ahead of the party's nominating convention to challenge her one last time. It would be a difficult path to victory with no guarantee of success.

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Clinton has been looking to shake free of the Democratic primary since mid-May in favor of focusing on a general election match up against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. In a fundraising email sent out to supporters on May 19, the frontrunner declared she was "going to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States," adding "that means it's time to steel ourselves for the general election."

Should Clinton lose California she may very well find herself embroiled in six more weeks of bitter primary battles over superdelegates, unable to completely turn her attention to the general election as Sanders runs his campaign all the way to the Democratic National Convention.