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June 07, 2016

New Jersey can assure the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton

70 votes needed to become the presumptive nominee

National political attention focuses on two states – New Jersey and California – holding Tuesday primaries to decide the contest between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Other states have primaries as well – Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota (caucus), South Dakota and the District of Columbia – but their aggregate delegate numbers pale compared to New Jersey’s 126 delegates and California’s 475.

According to the Associated Press, based on the pledged votes of superdelegates -- Democratic party officials and officeholders -- Clinton had enough support to win the nomination even before polls opened in New Jersey. But if the former secretary of state wins at least 70 New Jersey delegates, she should clinch the nomination against the Vermont senator through the regular delegates.

Superdelegates are not bound to vote for a candidate, so both Clinton's campaign and Sander's camp are still pushing to secure regular delegates, especially in New Jersey and California.

“This race can be decided in New Jersey,” in favor of Clinton, said her New Jersey campaign’s communications director, Derek Roseman.

But an unexpected result in New Jersey – such as a weak win – also has the potential to monkey-wrench Clinton’s desire to pivot and refocus on the general election, said Bill Caruso, a delegate for Sanders.

Which is why he contends Sanders has “an ability to surprise” in New Jersey, no matter what polls with long odds say.

Adding to New Jersey’s importance on Tuesday, the state goes first, with voting beginning at 6 a.m. and running through 8 p.m. EDT. Hours after the polls close in New Jersey, the voting will conclude in California at 11 p.m. EDT.

Which means New Jersey has the potential to decide the race for the Democratic nomination well before the polls in California close.

The primaries in both New Jersey and California are proportional, meaning the bigger a candidate wins in those states, the larger their delegate count.

With polls in California tightening – some say Clinton leads Sanders by as few as two percent in the Golden State – a healthy win for Clinton in New Jersey would go a long way toward moving away from the primary season and on to the general election against Donald Trump.

Trump already has enough delegates to win his party’s nomination, even though he remains on the Republican primary ballot Tuesday. He has not campaigned at all in New Jersey.

But winning New Jersey just narrowly – a CBS News 2016 Battleground Tracker poll conducted May 31 through June 3 shows Clinton leading Sanders, 61 percent to 34 percent, with a 5.4 percent margin of error – could hurt Clinton going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which starts July 25.

A lawyer and public affairs lobbyist, Caruso, whose career in New Jersey’s political class has “mainstream Democrat” stamped all over it, is a perhaps an unexpected delegate for Sanders.

But then Caruso points out that Sanders is a non-traditional candidate with a non-traditional organization.

In many ways the Sander’s campaign has run as a decentralized “virtual camp,” organized online, in coffee shops and living rooms, said Caruso.

He said the grassroots work on Sander’s behalf has struck a chord with new and unaffiliated voters in a way that traditional party workers and pollsters don’t get. (Unaffiliated voters can vote in the primary by declaring a party at the polls.) 

And pulling those voters in with Sander’s “authentic” messages on populist issues such as wealth disparity and student debt is part of the Sander’s strategy.

Sara Long, a Michigan resident who is a Sanders delegate and a veteran of Sanders' upset win in her home state and his discouraging loss in Pennsylvania – both states which have similar issues as New Jersey, she said – is running the senator's South Jersey office on Haddon Avenue in Collingswood.

She agrees that pollsters are missing Sanders supporters who don’t have landline phones and spend their time canvassing in ways that are hard to quantify.

Roseman, a veteran of mainstream Democratic politics and New Jersey’s communications director for Clinton, is well aware polls show his candidate leading.

“We read the polls. But we ignore them,” he said, adding the campaign in New Jersey is about “turnout,” plain and simple.

A strong win in New Jersey would make Clinton the presumptive nominee, said Roseman, and also send a “strong message.”

He said the Sander’s campaign strategy of targeting unaffiliated voters, having them declare as a Democrat on election day and then vote for Sanders is “a very broad stretch.”

Roseman believes national news coverage may focus on California, but he believes the big headline on Wednesday may be “Hillary clinches nomination,” based on her showing in New Jersey.