Voters in Indiana handed Sen. Bernie Sanders a key victory in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary. The win came after a series of electoral losses to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the announcement that the Sanders camp would be cutting more than 200 staffers. Sanders says he's still fighting to win the nomination — though he acknowledges it'll be an uphill fight.
Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, joined VPR to discuss their strategy going forward.
On the delegate count:
"The math is the math," says Weaver. "But the truth is that neither candidate is going to get to the convention with enough pledged delegates — these are delegates that are elected in the primaries and caucuses — to secure the nomination."
Clinton is ahead in the delegate count and Weaver says the strategy going forward relies on superdelegates.
"Whoever becomes the nominee, their nomination will depend on getting enough superdelegates," explains Weaver. "And these are people who are not elected through that process. These are elected officials and Democratic members of Congress and governors and party leaders."
"That group of people will ultimately decide who the nominee is," he says. "The superdelegates are going to have to take a step back. They're not bound to anybody. I know on TV it looks like [a large group of them] are somehow pledged to Sec. Clinton, but they're not really pledged to her. They're just people who have announced that they're inclined to vote for her at the convention."
Weaver says the assured Republican nominee could play a role in swaying these superdelegates to the Sanders camp.
"You know, they're going to take a hard look at which candidate can really beat Donald Trump in November," says Weaver. "One of Bernie Sanders' strengths, and why he beats Trump by a much larger margin than Sec. Clinton does, is he has a tremendous amount of support with independents. The truth of the matter is there just aren't enough Democrats. You can't elect a president with just Democrats. You have to bring in independents."
Weaver says they have been in regular communication with superdelegates and that some have even reached out to the campaign.
"We have an ongoing discussion with superdelegates all the time," says Weaver. "We provide them updated information on the campaign on a periodic basis. We're contacted by superdelegates on a regular basis, including superdelegates who... have said that they're going to support Sec. Clinton."
"We want to let the voters speak first and let this process run through," he says. "And then we will make a more concerted effort to reach out to superdelegates and to make the case [that Sanders] is the better candidate to defeat Donald Trump."
Weaver says that they plan to "intensify" communication with superdelegates "when we get closer to the end of the voting process."
On what Donald Trump being the assured nominee will mean for the Democratic race:
"It's difficult to know how it's going to impact the race," says Weaver. "Given that the republican race is essentially decided, in those places where there are open primaries Independent voters who might have been inclined to to participate in that more dynamic Republican race may now want to participate in the Democratic race."
"Beyond that, from Bernie's standpoint, he is fighting for every vote, every delegate in every state." Weaver says, "And I don't think you'll see much change in terms of his campaigning or his stump speech."
"Although I'm sure there will be increased focus on Trump," Weaver added.
On if Sanders will drop out if it becomes clear he cannot win the nomination:
Some democrats are calling on Sen. sanders to drop out of the race right now so the party can unite around Sec. Clinton ahead of the general election.
"That won't be clear until the convention," says Weaver. "Because Sec. Clinton is not going to have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination."
Weaver also shot down the idea that contests that continue into the summer hurt the party.
"You know there's a myth out there that these long primaries somehow have a negative effect on the ultimate nominee," says Weaver. "I think we saw in 2008 when Hillary Clinton went all the way to the end of the process against then Sen. Barack Obama, that that's really is just a myth in politics. Sen. Obama dominated that race in the general election and I suspect that whoever is the nominee of the Democratic Party in this instance will also fare similarly."
"Maybe some party establishment people that feel that way but voters don't feel that way," Weaver adds. "Exit polls in Indiana, which just voted [Tuesday], found that by a 3 to 1 margin, voters there felt that the race was energizing the Democratic Party rather than causing disunity."
On Sanders' influence on the party platform:
The campaign has suggested that even if Sen. Sanders doesn't win the nomination, they want to influence the party platform during the convention. Weaver says they're hoping to bring Sanders progressive agenda to the forefront.
"Influencing the party platform is something that the senator is interested in doing regardless of if he's the nominee or not the nominee," says Weaver. "He has listed an agenda progressive agenda for the country that has widespread support among rank and file Democrats. Frankly, Sec. Clinton ... is to the right of most Democrats on issues like single payer health care ... a $15 minimum wage, which Sen. Sanders supports and Sec. Clinton does not. In terms of issues of war and peace, in terms of energy policy and getting rid of things like fracking and carbon-based ... fuels."
"These are all critically important issues that need to be addressed," Weaver says. "But there are other issues as well. One of those issues is how the Democratic Party nominates its nominee for president. There are a lot of impediments across the country which we have discovered to people voting and participating. There need to be procedural changes so that we get more people to participate and that we maximize the number of people who come out."
Some supporters of Sen. Sanders have said they will not vote for Sec. Clinton in the general election. Weaver says if Clinton is the nominee, she will have to work to earn the vote of Sanders supporters.
"Bernie Sanders has been clear from the beginning of this race that he will endorse whoever is the nominee of the Democratic Party," says Weaver. "But one of the things that is going to have to happen is, in the event that Hillary Clinton is the nominee, she's going to have to reach out to the millions of people that Bernie Sanders has brought into this process."
"Now Bernie Sanders doesn't control any group of people, and he snaps his finger and they vote one way or another," Weaver adds. "[Clinton] is going to have to reach out and address the needs and aspirations of millions, particularly young people who have come out to vote for Bernie Sanders in large numbers all across this country; to independent voters who have supported him, who have a lot of misgivings about his secretary.
"You know that's what sort of bringing unity means," he says. "It means reaching out to these constituencies and addressing in a substantive way their concerns."
"If Bernie Sanders becomes the nominee, obviously there are elements of the party that he would have to reach out to create unity," Weaver adds. "It's incumbent on whoever the nominee is to reach out to the supporters of the other candidate and to bring those people in together."
This post was updated 5/5/2016 to refer to presidential candidate Donald Trump as the assured nominee. Trump is not considered the presumptive nominee until after California's primary on June 7.