My Final Primary Picks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the South Los Angeles Get Out The Vote
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the South Los Angeles Get Out The Vote Rally at Leimert Park Village Plaza on June 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. The presidential hopeful is attending a series of campaign stops on the eve of the California presidential primary election, where polls indicate a close divide between Clinton supporters and those of Democratic rival Senator Bernie Sanders. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Welcome back to my final 2016 round of "call the primaries." Although tomorrow night won't actually be the last primary day (Washington D.C. votes next week), it will be the last day where both parties' nominees are not known. So it'll be the last time the game will even be worth playing.

As always, before I get to tomorrow night's predictions, I've got to update the running totals. Oh, and my apologies to Democrats in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (who both voted over the weekend), as I neglected to make calls in their races.

Three weeks ago, I predicted Bernie Sanders would win both Kentucky and Oregon. While Bernie did clean up in Oregon, the Kentucky race was one of the closest of the entire season for Democrats. The state wasn't called until very late in the night, and in the end Hillary Clinton won it by less than 2,000 votes (out of over 400,000 votes cast). So while it was one of the closest races yet, Hillary chalked it up as a win -- meaning I now have to chalk it up as a loss.

Here are my running totals for how I've done throughout the primary season. I should note that the Republican numbers are final, since Donald Trump has wrapped up the nomination (I don't make predictions after that point, because it'd be unfairly running up my own score).

Total correct 2016 Democratic picks: 35 for 46 -- 76%

Total correct 2016 Republican picks: 37 for 47 -- 79%

Total overall correct picks: 72 for 93 -- 77%.

I'm still doing better than 3-for-4 in all categories, but just barely for Democrats. Which brings us to the final six predictions of the 2016 primary season. I'm going to present these in reverse-alphabetical order, just because.

 

South Dakota

No polling exists for either of the Dakotas, making both of them nothing more than gut calls. South Dakota holds a primary, and going on nothing more than geography and demographics, I'm going to predict Bernie Sanders wins South Dakota. With no poll numbers to go on, it's anybody's guess what will happen, but my gut tells me Bernie wins pretty solidly here.

 

North Dakota

Again, a complete dearth of polling means nothing more than gut feelings are available in North Dakota. But unlike all the other states voting tomorrow night, North Dakota is a caucus state, not a primary state. This makes it one of the easiest states to call, even without polling to rely on. Bernie wins the North Dakota caucus, and he wins it overwhelmingly -- as he's done in many other caucus states west of the Mississippi River. It won't even be close.

 

New Mexico

One poll exists from New Mexico, but it is really too old to be very informative. Back in late February, Clinton was up over Sanders by 14 points (47 to 33 percent). That's not much to go on now, though.

New Mexico could be very close. I say this because there are good indications for both camps, meaning nobody really knows what will happen. New Mexico holds a closed primary, which tends to benefit Clinton. But Sanders has a relatively high number of donors from New Mexico, and he's been doing very well using social media to get his message out.

Most poll-watchers are predicting Hillary wins New Mexico, mostly based on the high percentage of Latino voters and the geography (Hillary won both Arizona and Texas). I'm going to buck this trend and predict Bernie edges Clinton out here. I have nothing solid to base this on (other than gut feeling), but I think New Mexico could be the most surprising result of the night. I could easily be wrong on this one, but at the least I think we'll have to wait a few hours to hear who won the state, because it'll be so close.

 

New Jersey

This is perhaps the easiest state to call for tomorrow night. New Jersey is going to go for Clinton, overwhelmingly. She's been up 20-30 points in the polls, and Bernie has already all but conceded the state to her. New Jersey will get much of the press attention tomorrow night, for a couple reasons. First, it will be the first state where returns come in (it's the only Eastern Time Zone state to vote tomorrow), and all the big media is on the East Coast, so this will make it a convenient subject for conversation early on (hours before polls close elsewhere). Second, it will almost certainly put Hillary Clinton over the top in the number of delegates to win the nomination. Even not counting unpledged superdelegates (as Bernie urges us to do), Clinton will have secured more than half of the pledged delegates by winning New Jersey.

The news from the Garden State will be so big for Clinton that it'll likely push all the other states mostly off the media's radar for the rest of the night (excepting California). Clinton will (no doubt) give a big victory speech after New Jersey is called for her (which should happen approximately twelve seconds after the polls close). As I said, the easiest of predictions: New Jersey puts Clinton over the top.

 

Montana

Another state with no polling whatsoever. Well, unless you count polls from last year which didn't even include Bernie's name (but did include possible candidates Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden). I have to say I consider such polling absolutely worthless, at this point, for obvious reasons.

I'm going to predict another big Sanders win in Montana, which isn't really going out on a limb or anything. Geographically, Sanders has won almost every state in the region, and he'll also easily pick up Montana tomorrow night.

 

California

I listed tomorrow night's states in reverse order so that California would be the last on the list. It seems fitting, since California (for arcane reasons by self-serving state politicians from both sides of the aisle) votes last. We're the biggest state electorally, but in most years we are nothing but an afterthought in the primary schedule. This time around, I'm actually seeing campaign commercials on television for both Hillary and Bernie -- which is almost unheard of, out here.

But enough grumbling. California is going to be the state everyone will be watching tomorrow night (well, everyone in different time zones who stays up late, at any rate), because of the symbolic nature of who wins here. No matter who wins the state, it is not going to materially change the overall outcome at all -- a close victory by either candidate is not going to change the delegate count all that much, in other words, and it's not going to change the fact that Hillary Clinton will secure enough delegates for the nomination tomorrow night. But symbolically it could be huge. If Bernie Sanders wins California, he's going to be able to claim much more momentum heading into the convention. He'll have a stronger hand to play when fighting for items in the platform or perhaps a more-prominent prime-time speaking slot. The difference of a few percentage points over Hillary will be outsized, for Bernie. Of course, if Hillary ekes out a win here the opposite is also true: she'll have a much stronger hand to play when discussing the mechanics of the convention with Bernie's team.

The polling from the last few weeks has been odd, because only two results seem to happen. Either Bernie is trailing Hillary by only a point or two (in multiple polls), or else Clinton is 10-20 points ahead (also in multiple polls). There's nothing really in-between. It's either "within the margin of error" or a Clinton blowout. Most pundits are ignoring the blowout polls, and concentrating instead on the razor-thin margins. This might be a mistake, and there is a solid possibility that Clinton surprises everyone by chalking up a big win in the Golden State.

But Bernie's shown all the late-breaking momentum. He's been out here campaigning his heart out for the past few weeks. He has surged in the polls, although not enough to actually beat Clinton in any one poll (that I've seen). It's a rule of thumb, though, that late-breaking surges often are predictive. Which is why I'm going to throw caution to the wind and say that Bernie manages a slim victory in California. I'll be up late watching the returns come in, and I expect it'll take quite a while before the networks are willing to call the state. I have to admit a bit of personal bias here, since I'd love to vote for my state's winning candidate tomorrow night. But since these are the last contests to call, I thought I'd go out on an optimistic note for Bernie Sanders.

 

Conclusion

Adding it all up, it seems I'm being extremely optimistic, in fact. Bernie wins five states tomorrow night: South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, and the big prize of California. Hillary wins only one, New Jersey -- but it'll be enough for her to claim the nomination.

Part of why I'm being so optimistic for Bernie is for numeric reasons, I have to admit. If I have called all of these right, it will mean the final outcome (ignoring non-states) will be perfectly balanced -- both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will have won 25 states. That, to me, seems entirely fitting for a contest that has been so closely fought between the two.

I will make an extra prediction here, as well. Bernie Sanders will give a rousing speech at his return-watching party in California (which will likely happen before the state is called for either candidate), which will be full of "I'm going to continue fighting!" rhetoric. But even if he does win California, what will happen next is that Sanders flies home to Burlington, Vermont, and then the next day (perhaps timed to appear on the Wednesday evening news on the East Coast), Bernie will give a concession speech. He will thank all his supporters for fighting what seemed an impossible fight, he will vow to fight for his agenda very hard at the convention itself, but he will also admit the reality that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee and he will rededicate himself to fighting as hard as he can to make sure that Donald Trump is defeated in November. I think it'll be too hard for him to give this speech tomorrow night (in front of an adoring crowd), but I think once the balloons have all dropped and Bernie flies home to consider his options, he will do the magnanimous thing and announce his support for Hillary Clinton.

As always, you may think my predications are laughably wrong. For the last time in this year's primary election cycle, I invite you to make your predictions known in the comments. It's been a wild ride, folks, and (excepting D.C.) it is almost one for the history books. See you all back here in four years!

 

[Previous states' picks:]

 

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