Tad Devine and Jeff Weaver on Wednesday morning in Burlington
Updated at 5:03 p.m.
Their candidate lost seven of 11 states Tuesday night and fell further behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the delegate count, but top advisers to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sounded Wednesday morning as if they'd just won the jackpot.
“I think it's fair to say, last night we had a fantastic night,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver told reporters during a press conference at Sanders' Church Street headquarters. “We shot for five; we got 4.9.”
Weaver was referring to Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Vermont — the five states it targeted on Super Tuesday and, with the exception of Sanders' home state, where it devoted significant advertising dollars. Sanders won all but Massachusetts, but even there, he took nearly as many delegates as Clinton.
“It would've been nice if we drew an inside straight flush. We drew to a flush,” said senior strategist Tad Devine. “We still think we have a winning hand in this game, and we're going to continue to play it for a while.”
Throughout the 25-minute strategy session, Weaver and Devine sought to reverse the narrative that Clinton's delegate lead had become insurmountable. According to projections by the New York Times, Clinton had expanded her pledged delegate advantage by at least 165 on Tuesday and now leads Sanders 577 to 386.
“Yes, we're behind,” Devine said. “She has a substantial advantage. We believe we can make that up between now and June.”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook disagrees. In a memo he sent reporters Wednesday morning, the Norwich native noted that Clinton had already secured a larger lead over Sanders than then-senator Barack Obama ever did over Clinton during their 2008 race. He argued that the Democratic Party’s proportional allocation of delegates would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Vermonter to erase that lead.
“Sanders doesn’t just have to start winning a few states, but he needs to start winning everywhere and by large margins,” Mook wrote.
He argued that while Sanders has focused on winning a handful of states here and there, Clinton has racked up huge leads in states where Sanders hardly competed. The result? Sanders’ biggest successes on Super Tuesday — in Vermont and Minnesota — netted him 16 delegates apiece. Clinton’s biggest successes, meanwhile — in Texas and Georgia — netted her 78 and 44 delegates respectively.
Mook also pointed to Sanders’ difficulty wooing nonwhite voters, a critical constituency in the Democratic Party. Exit polls throughout the Super Tuesday states showed African Americans supporting Clinton over Sanders 83 to 15 percent.
“We have to do better with African American voters between now and the end of the process,” Devine acknowledged Wednesday morning. “But we think we can do a lot better, and this is why: Bernie has an incredible personal story to tell about his activism in the civil rights movement.”
Weaver disputed the notion that Sanders no longer had a path to victory.
“I know some people are ready to write this campaign off as a message campaign,” he said. “This is a campaign to win.”
But Weaver and Devine were vague about how they'd accomplish that.
Their first priorities: to win this weekend in Kansas, Maine and Nebraska — they didn't mention Louisiana, which also votes Saturday — and then compete next Tuesday in what Weaver called the “critical showdown” state of Michigan. From there, they said, they would focus on the industrial Midwest and pick up significant delegate numbers in places such as California and New York.
“We have done some scenarios as late as this morning, based on what we think we can do in upcoming states, that will get us to a pledged delegate advantage by the time we finish the voting in June,” Devine said.