Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in Oregon's primary on Tuesday. He nearly upset her in Kentucky, too. Sanders has now won three out of the last four contests in the Democratic presidential primary race.
Which leads to two questions: (1) Why? and (2) Does it matter?
The "why" is somewhat easier to explain. The Democratic primary race has been easy to predict for months. States with large white populations and big chunks of young voters favor Sanders. Older and/or less-white states favor Clinton. With very few exceptions, the map in the Democratic contest can be explained through that prism. So, a Sanders win in Oregon makes perfect sense, given that the state is heavily white. And Clinton winning Kentucky — an older, less-white state — fits the pattern, too.
The "does it matter" question is more complicated. On the most basic level — the fight for delegates — the answer to that question is no. Sanders will net four total pledged delegates out of Tuesday night, nowhere near enough as he tries to cut into Clinton's pledged delegate edge. Sanders would need to win overwhelmingly in the last handful of states to overcome Clinton in the pledged delegate count and, even then, the former secretary of state would have an overall delegate lead because of her dominance among superdelegates.
What happened Tuesday night — and what has happened more broadly this month — doesn't mean all that much in that context. Clinton had a near-insurmountable delegate lead going into May, and she still has a near-insurmountable delegate lead. In fact, you could reasonably argue that her hand is actually stronger today than it was at the start of the month because more states have come off the board and Sanders still hasn't made up any meaningful ground.
And then there is the recent history of how these nomination fights end. Clinton, as Clinton allies are quick to note, won five of the last seven states in her 2008 Democratic primary race against Barack Obama. BREAKING NEWS: She still lost.
With all that said, the fact that Sanders keeps beating Clinton is not totally meaningless. Consider:
1. The media coverage of the race since the New York primary, which was way back on April 19, has made it very clear that Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee. Sanders has been — and continues to be — painted as an also-ran with fuzzy motives for staying in the race. That the Vermont Senator continues to win states despite that dominant media narrative speaks to the loyalty of his followers and the continued resistance to Clinton in some pockets of the party.
2. Sanders 2016 ≠ Clinton 2008. Clinton was not only a sitting senator from New York, but she was also part of the unquestioned First Family of Democratic politics over the past two decades. Sanders is a 74-year old Democratic Socialist from Vermont. One started a race as the clear front-runner. The other started a race as a curiosity. That makes comparing how Clinton finished the 2008 primary campaign to how Sanders is finishing this one less than exact.
3. The more Sanders wins, the more it emboldens his hardcore backers to keep fighting. And, as we saw over the weekend — and into the early part of this week — in Nevada, an emboldened Sanders contingent unwilling to step aside for the Clinton juggernaut is problematic for the Democratic Party. If Sanders, say, wins California on June 7, it makes it that much harder for Clinton's forces to push him ever so gently (or not so gently) into that good night. And the last thing Clinton and the broader Democratic Party want is anything approaching the PR disaster that the Nevada party convention has turned into for them.
Make no mistake: If the Clinton team had its way, Sanders would have either (a) dropped out of the race already or (b) been rejected time and again by voters in the states. Neither has happened — and neither seems likely to happen before June 7.
None of that means that Clinton isn't going to be the Democratic nominee. She is. But it does mean that the end stages of this race aren't working out anywhere near how she would have liked them to.