Entering Final Primary Stretch, Clinton And Sanders Fight For A California Win Hillary Clinton could lose California's primary on June 7 and still win the Democratic nomination, but she and Bernie Sanders are campaigning hard there, hoping to close out the season on a high note.
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Entering Final Primary Stretch, Clinton And Sanders Fight For A California Win

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Entering Final Primary Stretch, Clinton And Sanders Fight For A California Win

Entering Final Primary Stretch, Clinton And Sanders Fight For A California Win

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This primary season, California is a big, liberal, delegate-rich prize in the Democratic presidential race. That's why Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have spent most of the week there. NPR's Tamara Keith reports on the tightening race in one of the last major primary contests.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: California wasn't supposed to be close. In early polling, Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead. But that lead has all but vanished, which Bernie Sanders pointed out with some glee at a rally in Santa Monica earlier this week.

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BERNIE SANDERS: She's looking very nervous lately, and I don't want to get get her more nervous. So if you promise not to tell her, we're going to win here in California.

KEITH: Clinton has also been spending a lot of time in California lately, though she's focused more on the general election than the primary.

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HILLARY CLINTON: Vote on June 7. Send a message. Send a message to a demagogic, rhetorically divisive and dangerous candidate that when you think about the future, you don't see Donald Trump's face up there.

KEITH: The reality is, with all the so-called superdelegates that have announced their support for Clinton and her very large lead in pledged delegates, Clinton will almost certainly clinch the nomination before the polls even close in California. So why is she competing so hard in the state? Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, says it's all about psychology.

JACK PITNEY: She wants to end the primary campaign on a high note, and losing California would end it on a low note. She wins the nomination, but she loses the psychological warfare to Bernie Sanders.

KEITH: As Clinton has traveled the state, the reception hasn't been entirely friendly.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

KEITH: In Salinas, a mix of what looked to be Trump and Sanders supporters gathered outside of a Clinton event. They chanted and waved signs about her speech transcripts, e-mail server and relatively hawkish foreign-policy views. Clinton supporter John Silva was puzzled by the protesters.

JOHN SILVA: You're either with Hillary, or you're with Trump.

KEITH: Silva was wearing a black T-shirt with big white letters reading dump Trump. And he admits he's more motivated against Trump than he is for Clinton. Silva initially supported Bernie Sanders, but now plans to vote for Clinton in the primary.

SILVA: I wish it would end so that all the concentration would be against Trump and the Democratic Party can unite against Trump. That would be a big plus for the party and, I think, for America.

KEITH: Clinton needs more voters like John Silva if she's going to unite the party, and she started making that pitch in California.

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CLINTON: We - Senator Sanders and I - our supporters together have so much more in common than we do with Donald Trump.

KEITH: Even a California loss for Clinton really wouldn't change the race because she and Sanders would likely split the state's delegates, says Mo Elleithee, director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. In 2008, he worked on the Clinton campaign.

MO ELLEITHEE: I think they would like to send a stronger message. But at the end of the day, the nomination process is about math much more than it is about momentum. Math beats momentum every time.

KEITH: But that's probably not what Sanders and his supporters will be saying heading into the Democratic convention if he's able to pull off a win in California. A Golden State victory would be a big part of Sanders' argument to superdelegates that they should flip to him. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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