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Politics In The News: A Preview Of Tuesday's Primary Contests

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hillary Clinton has a lot riding on this week. Last night, she won the primary in Puerto Rico after also clinching the contest in the Virgin Islands on Saturday, which puts her on the cusp of achieving winning the Democratic nomination. But if Hillary Clinton does not do well in Tuesday's primaries, she's even more likely to have a fight on her hands at the Democratic convention next month. Bernie Sanders repeated his promise at a press coverage in LA this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BERNIE SANDERS: It is extremely unlikely that Secretary Clinton will have the requisite number of pledged delegates to claim victory on Tuesday night. The Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention.

GREENE: OK. Let's talk about this with NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts who's on the line. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, David - sad day for us.

GREENE: Yeah, it truly is. You're talking about David Gilkey, our colleague, and our translator dying in Afghanistan. I appreciate that.

ROBERTS: Right.

GREENE: We also have Nomiki Konst who is the host of Sirius XM's "The Filter." And she's on the line from New York. Good morning to you.

NOMIKI KONST: Good morning. Good morning.

GREENE: Let's talk about this Tuesday. There are primaries in six states, including California. Four hundred and seventy five pledged delegates at stake, more than any other state in this Democratic nominating season in California - I mean, just a lot at stake. Cokie, it does not look, though, that California is a shoo-in for Hillary Clinton right now.

ROBERTS: By no means. She's - they're basically tied, she and Bernie Sanders in all of the polls. And she could easily lose that big state. But in terms of the nomination, it really doesn't matter. After winning Puerto Rico this weekend, the Virgin Islands, she's, by most counts, about 25 delegates shy of the number to be nominated. And New Jersey and a bunch of other states happen tomorrow as well as California, which are very likely to put her over the top, putting Bernie Sanders in the very peculiar position of being - going to the superdelegates and asking them to change their mind in order for him to get the nomination. And, of course, these are very members of the party establishment that he's been (laughter) railing against all these many months.

GREENE: And just for, like, a quick 20, maybe 15-second lesson, I mean, pledged delegates come from voting and caucusing. And then we have these superdelegates who are these party leaders. And they, largely, have so far pledged themselves to Hillary Clinton. So Nomiki, let me turn to you - why does California matter if you do believe it does? And then we should say you have been campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

KONST: Yes, I have. I just got back from California. I spent five days visiting 12 cities with other surrogates from the campaign, just campaigning, trying to reach different communities that hadn't been reached.

You know, California, by design, in the '80s, if many listeners may recall, there was a Hunt Commission, which was sort of the counterreform effort after a few reform commissions. And at this Hunt Commission, the establishment spoke up and said, you know, we want to have our say in the party as well, not just the voters. And that's when they created - they came up with the idea of superdelegates.

And they also put some of these primaries, the more conservative states at the beginning of the process and more liberal states, like California, all the way at the end. So even though California is the largest state, by far the most progressive state, it was put at the end to prevent a more progressive grassroots candidate - and that was actually spoken of at the commission - from taking the nomination.

And that worked, I think, it the '80s because it was a much more conservative country. The Democratic Party today is 70 percent more progressive than it was 10 years ago. You have more independents. Forty-three percent of this country are made up of independents now. The Democratic Party's hemorrhaging membership every single year. And in the past 10 years alone, we have lost over 1,000 seats.

GREENE: What about those who would say that the system - maybe it should be changed? Bernie Sanders could take that fight to future elections but that this one, I mean, he's playing by the rules that are established. And, you know, at the moment, you know, some would argue that the numbers are just stacked up against him. And, as Cokie said, you know, numbers wise, California doesn't matter.

KONST: Well...

ROBERTS: Well, the number actually aren't so stacked up against him.

GREENE: OK.

ROBERTS: That's the line. But, I mean, the fact is Hillary Clinton has won 3 million more popular votes. She leads in pledged delegates by 54 percent to 46 percent. And look, if you don't like the way the rules are, you can do what Jesse Jackson did in 1988 when he had won 13 states and he went to the Democratic convention and said get rid of winner-take-all primaries and change the system to proportional, which is what happened.

When you go to conventions contested and say we're still going to contest a convention as Bernie Sanders has done, what happens, generally, is your party loses. Look at the Republicans in 1976, the Democrats in 1980, the Democrats - Gary Hart still carried it to the convention in 1984. It creates a party that becomes very difficult to pull back together. And you can make the case that this year it's more important than ever for the Democrats to be in the position of being unified.

GREENE: Nomiki, about 30 seconds left - I'll give you the final word here. Why is it a bad - I mean, why is a good idea for Bernie Sanders if this could hurt the party?

KONST: Well, it's to compare, you know, where we are today to the '80s, a more conservative country. You know, Bernie Sanders has brought in 2 million more voters in California alone. I mean, this is a man who's - if anything, this is a party that has been falling apart for 10 years. And he's bringing in a new generation of voters.

You know, under 45, it's almost unanimous that everybody's supporting Bernie Sanders' policy. It's at the conventions that we pull back the curtain on the Democratic Party's process. A lot of people didn't know that lobbyist were part of our delegate system - superdelegate system. A lot of people didn't know that there were no union members that were being nominated initially to some of these committees.

GREENE: OK. Well...

KONST: So, you know, this is a party that is in danger of losing its support, its membership. And I think Bernie Sanders is the strongest candidate to take it to the convention...

GREENE: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Columnist Cokie Roberts and Nomiki Konst, political analyst and host of Sirius XM's "The Filter," thank you both.

KONST: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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