Bernie Sanders giving victory speech after winning Wisconsin

Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters April 5/
Image courtesy C-Span

Sanders Scores Big Win in Wisconsin

| published April 6, 2016 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—riding a crest of energized support from his legions of loyal followers—sailed to an easy victory over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, winning the Wisconsin primary by a hefty 57% to Clinton’s 43%.

At stake in the Badger State: 83 Democratic delegates, of which Sanders now collects the loyalty of 47. Under the proportional rules established by the Democratic National Committee, Clinton will walk away with 36 delegates.

Despite the delegate spread, however, Sanders win in Wisconsin may spell trouble for front-runner Clinton. Sanders’ sweeping win in the Badger State is almost without precedent, as the Vermont Senator won all but one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Clinton won only in Milwaukee, and by a relatively narrow 51.7% to Sanders’ 48.1%.

Other than in Milwaukee, however, Sanders pulled off a stunning win across the state, in some counties and precincts sweeping up more than 60% of the vote. In Winnebago County (Oshkosh), Sanders won by nearly 63% of the vote to Clinton’s 38.5%. In Dane County (Madison, a college town), Sanders won by 62.6% to Clinton’s 37%.

The victory burnishes Sanders’ current narrative that he is—despite Clinton’s efforts to marginalize him as a socialist (as he describes himself) and someone whose quixotic proposals are impractical—a mainstream candidate who can win in a state with critical importance in the Electoral College in November. The loss for Clinton proves to be a setback at a time when she would prefer to be consolidating Democratic Party support and concentrating her resources on the fall, when she face off against the Republican nominee (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich).

Sanders also performed extremely well among Wisconsin’s independent voters, many of whom—under Wisconsin’s open primary guidelines—can opt-in as a one-time participant in either the Republican race or the Democratic contest. Sanders won the hearts of those independents by a whopping 71%, a wide enough victory to buoy his parity with Clinton among registered Democrats.

Sanders’ win in the Badger State also tightens the math at a time when Clinton would have preferred to have put the nomination battle to rest. Not counting so-called super-delegates, Clinton now has about 1,280 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1,030—now a relatively close race in the delegate arithmetic. But when super-delegates are counted, Clinton is doing much better, as her total rises to more than 1,500. To win on the first round of balloting at the convention, a candidate must have at least 2,383 total delegates.

The Vermont Senator’s huge win will also no doubt spur additional giving to his candidacy, and experts expect that his campaign could benefit from another sustained wave of donations to his war chest. Sanders has been consistently outraising Clinton for more than 12 weeks, raking in much larger hauls of cash, even as the size of his individual donations remain relatively small. According to his recent FEC filings, Sanders has raised $109 million in three months—nearly $30 more than Clinton.

Sanders makes no mystery of his intentions: he plans to use his newfound momentum and cash to battle onward toward the convention, challenging Clinton in every state. By winning big, at least in some key states, he also hopes to soon begin prying the support of some super-delegates away from Clinton.

And if all goes better-than-expected for him, he seeks to deprive the former Secretary of State of enough delegates to storm into the convention hall unchallenged, at which time he hopes to begin to win the allegiance of both super-delegates and those delegates able to vote as they choose.

Sanders says he has reason to be optimistic, pointing to his roots in New York City and his surging momentum coming out of Wisconsin. The Badger State is Sanders' fifth win in six contests. In late March he swept to big victories in Hawaii, Alaska and Washington.

“I know a little bit about New York because I spent the first 18 years of my life in Brooklyn, New York,” Sanders jokingly told his supporters on Tuesday night. “But now please keep this a secret—do not tell Secretary Clinton. She’s getting a little bit nervous and I don’t want her to get nervous.”

Sanders believes that a win in New York, even by a small margin, will give his campaign the sort of super-boost which can propel him past Clinton and onward toward the nomination. A win in New York might also convince risk-averse super-delegates to abandon Clinton and climb on board Sanders’ bandwagon.

But Clinton will clearly be waiting for the Vermont Senator before he arrives in the Empire State. Clinton regards it as her turf, and it was the place she called home when she first ran for the U.S. Senate and all during her tenure as Secretary of State. Clinton’s strategists are also confident that Sanders has seen his last big win for several weeks, and they cite the conditions found in Wisconsin—mostly white, mostly upper-educated and college graduate, a state largely non-manufacturing and non-blue collar, and the open door to independent voters—which created factors unfavorable to Clinton and made it ripe for an easy Sanders win.

Clinton’s top staff and her top surrogates say that New York is hardwired for Clinton, and they do not expect Sanders to make nearly the same dent there that he was able to make in Wisconsin. They also point to the fact that liberals in Wisconsin tend to be highly progressive—far more leftward in their tilt than in states with similar demographic and educational frameworks.

The battle in New York will likely get rough, and indeed—starting with a New York Daily News front cover with the massive headline "Bernie’s Sandy Hook Shame,” in which the paper editorializes about Sanders’ weakness on the gun control issue, based on a recent interview with the paper’s editors in which he stumbled when pressed to explain his positions on guns—the bloodletting has already begun. The Clinton campaign used the Daily News article, almost verbatim, in both internal and external emails and letters to supporters.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Sanders Sweeps to Victory in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; March 27, 2016.

March 22 Primaries Extend Front-Runner Delegate Counts; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; March 23, 2016.