Faced with the prospect of what would be a demoralizing loss in California that would end the Democratic primary season on a low note for her, Hillary Clinton is launching a barnstorming tour of the state in an effort to stop her rival’s momentum.
She and former President Bill Clinton plan to hold more than 30 campaign events starting Thursday in a scramble to eke out victory in a state they once were projected to win handily.
The two arrive in California as polls show a dramatically tightened race. Clinton has much deeper ties to California than does Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, as well as the backing of almost the entire state Democratic establishment. Yet the latest poll released Wednesday, a Marist College survey for NBC and the Wall Street Journal, shows her leading just 49% to 47% among likely Democratic primary voters, a statistical tie considering the poll’s margin of error.
The vigor with which the Clinton campaign is now approaching California comes as an abrupt shift. As of a few days ago, Clinton had planned to be campaigning Thursday in New Jersey, which also holds its primary Tuesday.
Clinton took much of Memorial Day weekend off, save for marching in the annual parade Monday in her hometown in New York. She seemed to pay little attention to Sanders, focusing her efforts on tangling with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Regardless of who wins California, the senator from Vermont faces near-impossible odds of overcoming Clinton in the national delegate count. As Clinton herself demonstrated eight years ago by beating then-Sen. Barack Obama in the state, winning California doesn’t mean winning the nomination.
By the time Tuesday rolls around, Clinton is expected to need fewer than 50 delegates to claim the nomination, with more than 600 up for grabs in the day’s balloting.
But a loss in California would be a significant setback for Clinton, exposing anew the weaknesses she has sought to move past. And a Sanders victory would further embolden his supporters to demand she embrace more of his agenda.
On the other side of the aisle, Trump has been mocking Clinton for her inability to close out the primary, since he cleared the field on his side weeks ago. A Clinton loss in California would give him more fodder.
Despite the lopsided delegate count against him, Sanders has remained in the fight, which has enabled him to shore up his movement’s standing as a powerful force in Democratic politics.
“He’s been out there for three weeks solid, and we’ve been campaigning in all the other states,” Bill Clinton said when he stopped by a volunteer phone bank in Clark, N.J., on Wednesday afternoon.
California voters have “been good to us — to her particularly. Eight years ago, she did very well,” he said. “I think it’s really a question of turnout,” he added. “If we get enough voters out, she’ll win. We just have to work hard to do it.”
A surge of newly registered unaffiliated voters in California is one of the factors that has the Clinton campaign concerned. Sanders has done particularly well with independents, and a large portion of his supporters are voters who have not previously participated in primary elections.
The prospect of Clinton losing California has unnerved Gov. Jerry Brown, whose relationship with the Clintons has been rocky since the 1992 Democratic presidential primaries. That year, Bill Clinton was the front-runner, and Brown was in a position much like Sanders is today — an insurgent rival with a passionate progressive following.
Brown on Tuesday urged voters to support Clinton, warning in an open letter that continued fighting among Democrats would only boost Trump’s prospects.
Bill Clinton downplayed the tensions with Brown. “Reports of our long conflict have been greatly exaggerated,” he said.
Sanders dismissed the Brown endorsement as yet another establishment politician lining up behind Clinton. The comment provoked a scolding from California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
“For Bernie to say that Jerry Brown is establishment is kind of the biggest joke of the day,” she said on MSNBC. “You can’t just dis everybody who supports Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t work.”
As Brown and other party leaders urge unity, Sanders continues to lob barbs at the front-runner. On Wednesday, he attacked Clinton for not supporting a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Earlier in the week, he accused Clinton of flip-flopping on a financial plan for Puerto Rico, saying she moved her position to one that more closely resembles his “as has happened many times before.”
Clinton finds herself in a much more complicated spot than Sanders as she jets off to all corners of the state with a well-worn stump speech and new determination to close strong.
She is waging a battle on multiple fronts. The general election campaign is already underway for all practical purposes, and Clinton can scarcely afford to shift her focus away from it.
The marquee event Clinton will hold as she launches into her California tour, a speech to be delivered in San Diego on Thursday morning, will be more about highlighting contrasts with Trump than with Sanders.
The foreign policy address will warn that Trump has failed to outline a coherent foreign policy or even demonstrate a basic understanding of world affairs.
“This is not your typical foreign policy debate,” said Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s chief policy advisor. “[Trump] is fundamentally unfit for the job of keeping Americans safe.” Sullivan said the speech would be “a comprehensive and systematic critique of not just Donald Trump’s ideas, but his basic fitness for the job.”
The focus was also on Trump as Clinton rallied voters in Newark, N.J., on Wednesday. She delved into the latest controversies surrounding Trump, including allegations that Trump University had ripped off low-income students, and his displays of pique at being confronted by reporters about donations he promised to veterans’ charities.
“He is trying to scam America the way he scammed all those people at Trump University,” Clinton said.
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