Opinion

Why Bernie Sanders is truly a long-shot candidate

Sure, Bernie Sanders could win the nomination, but "lightning would have to strike." @DoyleMcManus explains

Just because Bernie Sanders probably won't win the Democratic nomination for president doesn't mean his candidacy isn't important, wrote Doyle McManus wrote in his column Wednesday. A few readers who expressed support for Sanders weren't pleased by McManus' assessment of the Vermont senator's chances.

In a letter published Friday, John Schaefer of Arcata, Calif., wrote:

"I beg to differ with Doyle McManus' assessment of Sen. Bernie Sanders' chances of winning. True, Sanders matters just as a candidate for president, but history shows that long-shot challengers can win. Barack Obama did."

A handful of other readers took issue with what they perceive to be The Times' dismissive coverage of the Sanders' campaign. One letter writer noted that Sanders has been polling in the teens in Iowa and New Hampshire. Below is McManus' response.

John Schaefer wasn't the only reader who thought I was being unfair to Bernie Sanders; dozens of others also weighed in.

I didn't say that Sanders had no chance to win the Democratic nomination. I merely said that for Sanders to win, lighting would have to strike — and I still think that's true. Here's why:

Hillary Rodham Clinton has a lead in early polls larger than any nonincumbent Democrat in memory. Recent surveys find that she has the support of 60% of Democrats against only 14% for Sanders. To be fair, those polls were taken before Sanders kicked off his campaign this week, but that's still an enormously steep hill to climb.

Yes, Obama was an underdog when he beat Clinton in 2008. But at this stage in the 2008 race, the polls were far closer: 33% for Clinton and 22% for Obama. She's more popular now than she was then.

Moreover, in 2008, Obama won overwhelming support from African Americans, an important part of the Democratic primary electorate in many states. Sanders has no such constituency in his hip pocket — not even progressives, many of whom currently support Clinton.

And one major reason Obama defeated Clinton was her unpopular vote in favor of the Iraq war. Sanders can raise that issue again, but it won't be as fresh or as painful as it was eight years ago.

So, in the end, I think the insurgent candidate Bernie Sanders will resemble isn't Obama, but his fellow Vermonter, Howard Dean, who lost the Democratic nomination to John Kerry in 2004.

Still, the 2008 race teaches another lesson: The conventional wisdom of media pundits doesn't determine what voters do. Eight years ago, most political reporters thought Clinton was likely to win the nomination. That didn't stop Democratic voters from choosing someone else — and they did.

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