On Sanders' Super Tuesday, the Lights All Went Out in Massachusetts

Probably because of the state’s Jews, for whom the Jewish Vermont Senator may be a tad too radical.

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters after winning the state of Vermont on Super Tuesday on March 1, 2016 in Essex Junction, Vermont.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters after winning the state of Vermont on Super Tuesday on March 1, 2016 in Essex Junction, Vermont.Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Bernie Sanders had a reasonably good Super Tuesday. He lost seven states to Hillary Clinton but won four states of his own, more than was expected. He crushed Clinton in his home state of Vermont but also took non-conformist Oklahoma as well as the caucuses in frozen Minnesota and cool Colorado. For an underdog in a race that’s supposedly all over, it was a pretty nifty performance.

But Sanders didn’t take Massachusetts. That’s all he needed. If Sanders had won in Massachusetts - Vermont’s weighty neighbor to the south, bastion of upper crust liberalism, home of the venerated Elizabeth Warren - Wednesday morning’s headlines would be completely different. They wouldn’t nod with condescension at his admittedly esoteric array of states but herald a grand upset, a shift in momentum, a rebuke to Clinton, a renewed contest. But after a long and suspenseful count, Sanders got twenty thousands votes less than Clinton and Massachusetts was lost. As the old but still poignant Bee Gees song has it, as far as Sanders’ race is concerned, “the lights all went out in Massachusetts”.

The Jews may have been responsible. Massachusetts is the first state with a sizable Jewish population that may have comprised close to five percent of Democratic voters. Most experts had predicted in advance that they would prefer Clinton over Sanders. That assessment was borne out by the voting results in the counties in which most of the Jews reside. They may have voted against Sanders despite his religion or perhaps because of it, though the more logical assumption is that the Vermont senator just too radical for the relatively mature and well to do Jews of Boston and Brookline.

But even with Massachusetts in his pocket, Sanders can’t ignore the growing advantage that Clinton holds over him in delegates and super delegates or the devastating defeats that he suffered on Tuesday in big and delegate-laden southern states such Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Texas Tennessee and Arkansas. In all of these, Clinton thrashed Sanders by astonishing margins that approached her crushing 47-point advantage in South Carolina in Saturday and in Alabama’s case even surpassed it: Clinton won there buy a lopsided 78%-19% majority. Once again, Sanders’ monumental failure in making inroads with African Americans was all too apparent: he lost by whooping 80%-20% margins throughout the South.

Nonetheless, Sanders achievements were enough to reignite his enthusiastic fans and to renew his pledge to stick it out till the end. Sanders believes that he still stands a chance of beating Clinton in significant states with smaller African American populations, such as Michigan and, to a lesser degree, Ohio and Illinois. In any case, he will continue to push his message of campaign reform and income inequality, if not to actually win than to keep on setting the agenda.

But Clinton can also be encouraged by her performance among white voters in the South, which could signal her ability to pick up blue collar support in the same Rust Belt states that Sanders is banking on. In any case, the next primaries will still include states with sizable African American groups, from Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida in the South to Illinois and Ohio in the Midwest.

It’d not clear that Clinton would wish Sanders out of the race anyway. The Democrats already made the mistake of abandoning the stage to Trump and letting him set the agenda, and they don’t care to repeat it. As long as there are primaries, Clinton will get a lot of free airtime for victory speeches in which she can pay her respects to Sanders and launch her broadsides at Trump, as she did on Tuesday night.

All this on the assumption that the always-threatening email affair won’t detonate and crush her campaign. In such an unlikely scenario, Sanders will always be able to point to his Super Tuesday states as proving that he is the rightful heir to the throne, and not by default. (Though someone else will probably pop up to challenge him, whose first name starts with a J and last name with a B).

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