If there is any consistency among the views of those who earn their living by prognosticating about elections, it is that Donald Trump's path to become the Republican presidential nominee is fraught while Hillary Clinton's win is virtually assured. "Will Trump Be Dumped?" read the headline of Maureen Dowd's Sunday New York Times column, while her colleague Jeremy Peters wrote, "Even if super-delegates did not exist... [Sanders'] hopes of catching [Clinton] in the traditional delegate race are looking increasingly thin."
Trump's lead over Cruz and Clinton's over Sanders, however, are virtually the same -- 237 pledged delegates in the case of Trump/Cruz and 219 in the case of Clinton/Sanders. So what explains the difference in attitudes towards the contests?
Some pundits say that the difference in their assessment of the two contests is that Clinton also has the advantage of an additional 469 super-delegates to Sanders' 31, while FiveThirtyEight blog's David Wasserman argues that though Sanders' advocates talk about the "will of the people," if you tally all the actual votes cast, Clinton has won 2 million more actual votes and therefore represents that will.
Yet, if you are plotting an electoral victory in November -- which is, after all, what counts -- Wasserman has it wrong. While Clinton has an apparent "popular vote advantage of more than 2 million votes," that advantage may be illusory, as much of her votes come from states that have not voted for a Democrat for president in years.
Sanders has won 16 contests to Clinton's 20 (including the Marianas, American Samoa and Dems abroad) but looking more closely, Clinton has won in only seven states where Obama prevailed in 2012 (Iowa, Nevada, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois) while Sanders has won nine states where the democratic nominee won (New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Hawaii, Washington State, Wisconsin).
If you subtract the votes of the states which went Republican in the 2012 and 2008 elections from each candidate's totals and subtract the number from the candidates' total popular vote the result is quite different. Instead of Clinton having a 1.5 million vote advantage over Sanders (9,412,426 to 7,834,497) in states that have gone democratic in the past years and which Democrats need to win, Sanders turns out to have a 1.5 million vote advantage over Clinton - 7,534, 744 for Sanders to Clinton's 5,867,998.
Does this matter? Is this more than simply counting angels on the head of a pin? Yes, because each party faces the same dilemma: how to put forth a candidate that can unite the factions of their party, bring out their base while attracting the third of Americans who are independent. Sanders' numerical strength is in the states that Democrats must win if they are to prevail in November. Clinton's numerical strength is in the South -- which is less than helpful in a November contest.
Whatever happens in the next weeks in California and New York, and whether or not Sanders can secure enough pledged votes to equal Clinton's, if Democrats are to win in November, the party must take Sanders' numbers and states seriously.
As to the super-delegates and whether they would swing to Sanders if he prevails in pledged votes. Despite assurances that the super-delegates would never abandon their party leaders, as the old adage says, all politics are ultimately local. With every member of the House of Representatives up for re-election, while the super-delegates may owe their loyalty to the party, they will be looking over the shoulders at how Clinton and Sanders fare in their local polls -- and ergo, how they will fare as well.
I am not foolish enough to predict who will win New York or California -- and I think the results in those states are less important than what the numbers already tell us. Despite the narrative spins of the parties and the pundits, each party faces the same challenge -- to create unity among a divided party core that will bring it to victory in November. Not only has the fat lady not sung, the orchestra is still warming up.