Earlier in the day, Sanders’s campaign sent supporters a fundraising letter that also seemed to put Kentucky on the win board. “We won the Oregon primary and came to yet another virtual tie, this time in Kentucky,” wrote the campaign, in text credited to Sanders. “That’s 21 victories for us so far, plus three more virtual ties where the margin was less than one percent of the vote.”
As Sanders focuses on trying to win California, in the hopes of convincing superdelegates that Hillary Clinton has lost momentum and would lose a general election to Donald Trump, he is testing the nerves of Democrats who think he’s misrepresenting his overall chances. Heading into Tuesday night, Sanders needed to win 66 percent of all available delegates to pass Clinton in the pledged count. His 56 percent of the vote in Oregon and 46.3 percent in Kentucky put him short of that, requiring him to win 67 percent of the outstanding delegates to pull ahead.
To the frustration of Sanders supporters, the slow count of Oregon ballots made his victory there look much narrower when networks called it, and Kentucky’s Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes — a Clinton endorser — gave media outlets the go-ahead to call the state for Clinton.
On Tuesday night, Sanders’s campaign informed reporters that the senator was going to take another look at Kentucky’s results before deciding whether to ask for a recount. Wednesday came and went with no answer from the campaign, but with Sanders beginning to spin Kentucky as a sort of win, considering the closed nature of the primary. At his mid-day speech in San Jose, Sanders seemingly contradicted the “21 victories” count used in the fundraising email.
“As of last night, thanks to the people of Oregon, we won our 20th state primary or caucus,” said Sanders. “Thanks to the people of Kentucky, we won half of the delegates there.”
Sanders did defeat Clinton in the Democrats Abroad primary of ex-pats, taking nine delegates to Clinton’s four, giving him a win that could be added to the 20 state victories to make 21. Those counts obscure the problem that has put Sanders behind Clinton since late February — he has won narrow victories in delegate-rich states and large victories in small states, while Clinton won landslides in the South, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. For example, Clinton netted 44 delegates in Georgia, one of the larger March 1 primary states. Sanders netted 45 delegates by winning Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota, combined. Across those states, Sanders won 418,873 votes; in Georgia, Clinton won 545,674 votes.
Clinton’s endorsers in the Senate, who have generally resisted telling Sanders to end his campaign, grew increasingly frustrated this week with what they see as his myth-making about the primaries. In particular, they've watched Sanders defend lower-turnout caucuses while talking down the results of closed primaries.
“I don’t think the majority of Bernie’s supporters have anger; I do think it is unfortunate that too many of them are repeating that this is somehow about a rigged system,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), an early Clinton endorser. “We can argue that where Bernie has had most success is in caucuses where working people, if they’re working during that time, can’t participate. You can’t mail in a ballot. You can’t file an absentee ballot. You have to be there physically. You can argue that the caucus is more exclusionary than primaries where Hillary Clinton has done well. I don’t believe that the system is ‘rigged.’ ”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), whose state gave Sanders the upset that prolonged the primary, suggested that Sanders was over-selling his chances of victory.
“I remember eight years ago being with Hillary where she won seven of the last 10 races and how everybody felt about that,” said Stabenow. “But the math didn’t add up for her then, and it doesn’t add up for Bernie now.”