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Don't Expect Sanders To Drop Out Tuesday. Clinton Didn't Either Right Away In 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to the media during a press conference Monday in California.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to the media during a press conference Monday in California.

The Democratic Party about to nominate a historic candidate. That candidate's opponent not ready to accept that reality.

Bernie Sanders?

No, Hillary Clinton in 2008.

On the night, June 3, 2008, Barack Obama, the first African-American to lead a major party in this country, clinched the Democratic nomination and was declared the "presumptive nominee" by every major news outlet (and yes, that was with superdelegates), Clinton was not quite ready to give up the fight.

She touted her experience...

"[Y]ou asked yourself a simple question: Who will be the strongest candidate.... Who will be ready to take back the White House and take charge as commander-in-chief and lead our country to better tomorrows?"

... her argument that she won in competitive general-election states ...

"[B]ecause of you, we won, together, the swing states necessary to get to 270 electoral votes."

...and declined to drop out:

"Now, the question is: Where do we go from here? And given how far we've come and where we need to go as a party, it's a question I don't take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight.

"But this has always been your campaign. So, to the 18 million people who voted for me, and to our many other supporters out there of all ages, I want to hear from you. I hope you'll go to my Web site at and share your thoughts with me and help in any way that you can.

"And in the coming days, I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way."

But she did emphasize unity:

"I am committed to uniting our party so we move forward stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House this November."

And at the outset praised the campaign Obama ran:

"I want to start tonight by congratulating Senator Obama and his supporters on the extraordinary race that they have run.

"Senator Obama has inspired so many Americans to care about politics and empowered so many more to get involved. And our party and our democracy is stronger and more vibrant as a result. So we are grateful.

"And it has been an honor to contest these primaries with him, just as it is an honor to call him my friend. And, tonight, I would like all of us to take a moment to recognize him and his supporters for all they have accomplished."

Does Sanders do the same? He didn't appear ready to do so Monday night after the AP found that Clinton had secured enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Instead, his campaign put out a statement lambasting the media for "a rush to judgment." He continued to pledge to take his fight to the convention.

Does that change?

Four days after Clinton's remarks the night Obama was declared the "presumptive nominee," Clinton conceded — with her famous 18-million-cracks-in-the-glass-ceiling speech.

Sanders has run a spirited race. And his clear message has broken through, especially with young voters. But it should be noted that the 2008 Democratic primary race is not really in the same category as this one:

-- Clinton leads Sanders by more than three million votes.

In 2008, Clinton got the most votes, too. That's right. She won the popular vote — by 273,000 votes (17,857,501 to 17,584,692), and Obama still became the nominee. (It's true that Obama and Sanders did better in caucuses and their likely vote totals are underrepresented here, but not enough to make up three million votes.)

-- So how could superdelegates let Obama be the nominee if he lost the popular vote? Simple. He won the most delegates (with basically the same rules as are in play this year). Obama actually only finished 69 pledged delegates aheadof Clinton. Clinton, as of Monday night, led Sanders by 291 pledged delegates. That's more than Obama's margin against Clinton overall, including superdelegates (238.5). Clinton's lead with superdelegates is more than 800.

Clinton, like Sanders, even on that last night of voting in 2008, made the argument that she was the most electable candidate.

But, in the end, Clinton, like Sanders, lost fair and square. The rules of the game, as complicated and convoluted — and perhaps as undemocratic — as they seem, were known to everybody ahead of time.

The rules very well may change, especially because of Sanders' fight. But the only real question now is not who nominee will be, but what will Sanders do?

Polls have shown that the last bitter couple of months have only hurt Clinton and sowed distrust among Sanders supporters for the person who is going to be the nominee. And that has taken a toll on Clinton's poll numbers against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Now, it's up to Sanders to show that he really does want Trump to be defeated and to do everything he can for Clinton to make that happen. That's going to mean rallying around Clinton — and time is ticking.

But there's a big difference, and not just a mathematical one, between 2008 and 2016 — Clinton wanted a future in the Democratic Party; she wanted to run for president again.

Sanders is more than likely not going to run for president again. So his incentive to get behind Clinton in a timely manner isn't the same. Is affecting the party platform enough? Does he need a new, important role in the Senate? It's unclear at this point.

On Monday afternoon, before the AP and other news outlets' projection of Clinton as the "presumptive nominee," there were the first signs that Sanders might realize where this is heading. At a press conference in California, he said three times that "right now" his focus is on winning races Tuesday.

"Let me see where we are tomorrow," he said, when asked if he would consider endorsing Clinton.

President Obama will undoubtedly soon have a role in all this — trying to gently lean on Sanders and likely endorsing Clinton soon.

It took Clinton four days to publicly acknowledge her fight was over. How long will it take Sanders?

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.