FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Bernie Sanders acknowledged Thursday that he has “a hard fight” ahead to catch Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race but said he is still angling to win and that it would be “outrageously undemocratic” not to continue.
“Our progressive agenda has enormous support,” the senator from Vermont said in an interview ahead of a rally planned here. “For anyone to rule us out is making a mistake.”
Sanders conducted a round of media interviews Thursday afternoon for the first time since losing all five primaries to Clinton that were on the calendar Tuesday, two of them by relatively narrow margins.
Clinton now leads Sanders among pledged delegates needed to secure the nomination, 1,139 to 825, according to a tally by the Associated Press. To catch the former secretary of state, Sanders would need to win about 58 percent of the delegates at stake in the primaries and caucuses during the second half of the race.
Sanders also lags far behind Clinton in the number of elected officials and other party leaders known as superdelegates who also have a say on the party’s nominee.
In a fundraising solicitation Wednesday, Sanders told supporters that he has “an extremely good chance” to win nearly every state that votes in the coming month, starting with Arizona, Idaho and Utah next Tuesday.
During the interview, he declined to classify any of the upcoming contests as “must-win” and said it was “hard to say” how he would fare in Arizona, the biggest prize among the three states on Tuesday.
A Merrill poll released this week showed Clinton leading Sanders in Arizona 50 percent to 24 percent with 26 percent undecided. Sanders aides have said their polling shows a much tighter race.
Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, signaled Thursday that it intends to make a statement in Arizona.
“Bernie thinks it is the beginning of his turnaround,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said on Twitter. “We think we are going to win. Showdown!”
Looking beyond Tuesday, Sanders said he is heartened that “we have the largest states in the country yet to come,” adding that he is confident he can do well in delegate-rich California and New York.
“I’ve got a shot to win California, and I think we can win it big,” Sanders said, adding that some of the most progressive states in the country are on the West Coast and have yet to cast ballots.
Sanders bristled at a question about whether there were other aims he could accomplish by staying in the race, such as gaining leverage in crafting the Democratic Party platform or continuing to keep income inequality on the national agenda.
“I’ve been asked that question a hundred times, and it’s a bad question,” Sanders said. “The goal is that I get elected president of the United States.”
Sanders reiterated that he has no intention of getting out of the race before the Democratic convention in July.
“Why would you not allow half the people to vote?” he asked. “That is outrageously undemocratic.”
Sanders did allow that one “residual benefit” of his presence in the race, win or lose, is “to show the entire world that there are many millions of people who are dissatisfied with establishment, status quo politics.”
Sanders also said in the interview that he thought his overall performance on Tuesday was stronger than it has been cast by much of the media, which he said tend to focus too much on winning states rather than delegates received. Because delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, candidates can pick up considerable amounts of delegates even when they lose.
Sanders noted that while Clinton won Illinois and Missouri, the delegate counts there were nearly identical.
He also noted that he lost North Carolina to Clinton by about 14 percentage points, a smaller margin than other Southern states, where Clinton has run very strongly.
“That’s not great, but it’s better than what I thought would happen,” Sanders said.
“The biggest disappointment for me Tuesday was Ohio,” Sanders said, adding that he thought he had an outside shot of winning the state.
Clinton prevailed by nearly 14 percentage points.