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As the campaign nears the end, Bernie Sanders talks about his mission and goals

As the campaign nears the end, Bernie Sanders talks about his mission and goals
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a campaign rally in Cathedral City on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. (Damian Dovarganes / AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders sat down with Times reporter Kate Linthicum for a brief interview Wednesday night before his rally in Lancaster. This transcript of the questions and answers has been lightly edited for clarity.

LAT: A new poll shows you trailing Hillary Clinton by a few percentage points in California. Let’s say you did squeak out a victory here. What would that mean?

Sanders: Right now in terms of pledged delegates, we have about 46%. Now that is a pretty good vote when you consider a lot of the primaries that we have participated in are closed primaries, which means independents are not able to participate.

If we can do well in the last six states, it is possible if we do very, very, very well, we can end up with a majority of the delegates. That's a steep climb. It requires us doing very well here in California, and that's why we're running all over the state, and why we intend to speak to at least 200,000 people face-to-face.

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Now Hillary Clinton has a huge lead in superdelegates. The case that we’re going to make to the superdelegates is a very simple case: If you look at all of the polling that has been done in the last couple of months, every national poll, and virtually every state poll has us beating [Donald] Trump by much larger margins than Hillary Clinton. In fact there’s some states where she’s losing to him.

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In the case of the superdelegates, 400 of whom decided to back Clinton before anyone else was in the race, the case we make to them is that if they want to defeat Trump, they want the strongest candidate. I think our campaign is that campaign.

LAT: Campaigning nonstop can be a really intense experience. I don't know how much time you've had for self-reflection...

Sanders: And you think I will tell that to you, right?

LAT: Well, what have you learned about yourself during this campaign process?

Sanders: Well we've been doing this for a year. You see your strengths in action, the things you do well, and you see your weaknesses. Because you're out there every single day under public scrutiny. Both your strengths and your weaknesses, you see them more clearly than under normal circumstances.

LAT: Is there any hope for party unity with Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the helm of the DNC?

Sanders: Well I have said that if I'm elected president, I would ask Wasserman Schultz to step aside.

I think as you'll see here tonight, virtually all of the crowds that we bring out are people who are really not involved in Democratic Party process. They don't feel welcome. They don't know much about the party.

If you went into the crowd and asked people if they'd ever been to a Democratic Party meeting, my guess is they would say, "What's that about?"

But I say, "You, know what? You are the future of America. I want you in. And you don't have to be a member of Congress, you don't have to be a major donor."

I don't think Debbie Wasserman Schultz has done that. And that's the kind of party that we're going to fight for.

LAT: What are the specific changes that you think need to be made to the Democrats' primary process?

Sanders: Well I'll give you the easy ones. I'm still thinking about some of the harder ones.

LAT: And is this going to be your new mission?

Sanders: Well I wouldn't say 'new' mission. It's one of many.

No. 1, I think we have to do away with closed primaries. And I say that not just because they work against me, but in the sense that the fastest growing political segment of American society are independents.

They come in, and they're not happy with the Democrats, they're not happy with the Republicans. The process now in many states is to say to the fastest group of American voters: "You can't participate in the Democratic nominating process." I think that's counterproductive.

No. 2, I think this whole issue of superdelegates has got to be rethought in a very profound way. I don't have the answer yet. But the idea that 400 superdelegates came on board Hillary Clinton's campaign before anybody else was in the race, what that is is a hierarchy, a top-down process by which the establishment has decided who to nominate.

LAT: One of the people you chose to help shape the DNC platform at the Democratic convention this summer is a pro-Palestinian activist. Do you think that the Democrats and the U.S. should recalibrate their position toward Israel? What would that look like?

Sanders: Let's be clear. I am 100% supportive of Israel's right to exist, not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security, and to take all actions that are needed to protect itself from terrorism.

But I believe that for too long our country and our government have not given the Palestinian people the respect that they need. And I think that long term, if there's going to be peace in the Middle East, a lasting peace, the Palestinian people are going to have to be treated with respect and dignity.  And I think the ideas that we're bringing forward will be the ideas that are adopted by the overwhelming majority at the Democratic convention.

LAT: You named Cornel West to the same committee.

Sanders: Oh yes, my dear friend.

LAT: Did you agree with his phraseology when he called President Obama a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface?”

Sanders: Look, Cornel West is brilliant. He's a prolific writer. He's one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States.

I'm quite certain there are many things that Cornel has written and said, including that, that I do not agree with.

And there's much that I have said and written that Cornel does not agree with. But Cornel has played a great role in our campaign. He's a man of passion and brilliance. And I'm delighted to see him on the platform-writing committee.

LAT: Last question. Are you having fun?

Sanders: (Laughs heartily) Sometimes. In general I am.

MORE ON 2016 ELECTION:

Follow me on Twitter: @katelinthicum

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