WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vowed to take his fight for the Democratic presidential nomination all the way to the party's convention in July, promising not to give up even if he continues to trail Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates.
"It is virtually impossible for Secretary Clinton to reach the majority of convention delegates by June 14 -- that is the last day that a primary will be held -- with pledged delegates alone. ... She will need superdelegates to take her over the top at the convention in Philadelphia," he told reporters in a press conference at the National Press Club Sunday afternoon.
"In other words," he added, "the convention will be a contested contest."
Sanders lags behind Clinton in both pledged delegates and superdelegates, those Democratic officials who are free to vote for whomever they want at the convention. The senator's longshot strategy increasingly focuses on convincing superdelegates -- who overwhelmingly back Clinton (520 for her, compared to 39 for Sanders) -- to switch to him.
Sanders' case to those superdelegates revolves around two points: One, they should reflect the will of voters and back the candidate who wins in their state. So if Sanders sweeps a state, the superdelegates should vote for him -- even if they personally prefer Clinton.
"If I win a state with 70 percent of the votes, you know what? I think I'm entitled to those superdelegates," he said. "I think the superdelegates should reflect what the people in the state want. And that's true for Hillary Clinton as well. I can't tell you one thing for me and another thing for Hillary Clinton."
The second part of Sanders' case is that superdelegates should look at who will be the strongest candidate against Donald Trump or whoever the eventual GOP nominee will be. Sanders argues that he is that person. He also said that even if Clinton wins the most pledged delegates, he would be fine with superdelegates supporting him and boosting him to the nomination -- although it would violate his first point about reflecting the will of the people.
"At the end of the day, the responsibility that superdelegates have is to decide what is best for this country and what is best for the Democratic Party," Sanders said. "And if those superdelegates conclude that Bernie Sanders is the best candidate, the strongest candidate, to defeat Trump and anybody else, yes, I would very much welcome their support."
That second part of Sanders' strategy doesn't sit well with some of his progressive backers, who have long stood on the principle that superdelegates' votes should reflect the popular vote.
MoveOn.org, for example, backs Sanders for president. But Ben Wikler, the group's Washington director, said they have long believed the will of the people should determine the winner -- and they continue to believe that in this election.
"[S]uperdelegates shouldn’t overrule the will of the Democratic grassroots," Wikler said. "If the primary and caucus winner is Hillary Clinton, then Clinton should be the nominee. If it’s Bernie Sanders, then Sanders should be the nominee."
The next state to hold its presidential primary is Indiana. Clinton currently holds an eight-point lead there, according to an average of publicly available polling by HuffPost Pollster.