One Endorsement Can Make All The Difference for Sanders, Clinton in California's Looming Contest

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA, North America
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA, North America

As far as Democratic Presidential primary contests go, California is identified as the 'crown-jewel' of all states. That's because it's comprised of a colossal cache of state-appointed delegates up for grabs -- a whopping 475 of them. That's not even counting the 71 super-delegates.

Latest polling in the state has former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading Senator Bernie Sanders anywhere from six to 11-points. That's a titanic-size difference from this time in 2015 when Clinton was in a different stratosphere from Sanders, hovering around 50-points ahead.

Now that Sanders and his people-powered, grassroots-driven campaign has closed the polling gap nationwide as well as in the Golden State, there's a real possibility that California could become another battleground.

Before it does, of course a lot of things have to fall into place for Sanders. He's got to capitalize on the jolt of momentum he earned on the heels of his Wisconsin and Wyoming wins. Then, he has to eviscerate Clinton's lead in New York and pull off a stunning upset in her home state similar to his jaw-dropping Michigan triumph. While unlikely, if somehow he does accomplish such a feat, it'll renew and further fan the flames around questions of Clinton's vulnerabilities as a general election candidate. Should that happen, the dynamics of the race will shift dramatically in Sanders' favor and position him well for several of the remaining pre-California contests.

If and when that happens, all eyes will increasingly turn to the Golden State. At that moment, there's one endorsement that hasn't yet generated the extensive attention it deserves, but should.

I'm talking about California's legendary Governor, Jerry Brown, and his ability to make all the difference for either Sanders or Clinton in the state.

Perhaps one of the most influential Governors in the U.S., the now-four term Governor Brown maintains a high 57% approval rating among all California voters, including Republicans. His support rates even higher among Democrats and Independents. That matters because both of them can vote in the state's upcoming Democratic primary.

More than just producing high ratings, Brown is also credited for taking the state-- and the 8th largest economy in the world-- back from the brink of near economic collapse. He's also been at the helm when California passed some of the most progressive laws in the nation: a $15 per hour minimum wage, driver's licenses for immigrants, and the boldest environmental protection laws in America.

In addition to his popularity and accomplishments, Brown's impact on California's June primary will carry historical significance as well.

With the exception of 2008 when the state moved up its Presidential primary election to February for Super Tuesday, the last time the state had a competitive Democratic Presidential primary as late as June, was in 1992. That year, the state witnessed a feisty brawl between then-Governor Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown in the race for the Democratic nomination.

In a similar fashion to today's Democratic primary contest, in 1992, a Clinton was far and away leading on the delegate front but hadn't yet sewn up the needed delegates to lock down the nomination. Equally symbolic is the fact that Brown-- at the time an underdog much like Sanders is today-- ran on a comparable platform of overhauling the nation's campaign finance system.

While Brown put up a solid fight in 1992, he was ultimately defeated by Clinton. Ever since then, there hasn't been much of a cozy relationship between the two.

Fast-forward to 2016, and interestingly, Brown has been remarkably radio-silent on the Democratic primary race.

Both Clinton and Sanders obviously know how highly coveted Brown's endorsement is, and what kind of weight it would carry in California. His favorable rating polls higher than both candidates by double-digits.

While Governor Brown's endorsement would be meaningful for Clinton, it would represent much more of a game-changer for Sanders.

Why? Chiefly because one of the weaknesses of Sanders' candidacy is his appeal to minority voters. And in latino dominated California, this constituency has the ability to determine which Democrat prevails in the state. A nod from Brown, who worked closely with Cesar Chavez and who is extraordinarily popular with the state's latino electorate, could be transformational when it comes to helping Sanders break through with latino voters.

Moreover, a Brown endorsement could help Sanders shore up support from die-hard Democrats. As we've seen throughout the course of 2016, Sanders does better in open primaries where Independents can vote alongside Democrats. That will also be the case in California, but if Sanders wants to run up the delegate score against Clinton, he'll need to woo over more Party loyalists that are the lifeblood of the Democratic Party.

Any way you look at it, Governor Brown could hold the keys for either Democrat to win in California. His support could help finally seal the deal for Clinton by becoming a blockade against the Sanders avalanche or it could embody the transformational game-changer that Sanders desperately needs to solidify support from latinos and Democratic Party loyalists.