Bernie-Mania in Wisconsin?

So the big weekend presidential nominating news did not, as expected, emanate from Joni Ernst’s Roast-n-Ride in Boone, Iowa (though Scott Walker did concede the possibility of a full-on reinvasion of Iraq, which could and definitely should come back to haunt him). No, the real buzz comes from Walker’s own state of Wisconsin, where a straw poll held at the Democratic State Convention showed Hillary Clinton winning but not by any sort of landslide. Politico‘s Jonathan Topaz reports the results:

Bernie Sanders scored 41 percent in a straw poll vote at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention this weekend — finishing a close second to Hillary Clinton, who won 49 percent.

The Vermont senator received 208 of 511 delegate votes at the state convention in Milwaukee on Saturday, while Clinton won votes from 252 of the delegates, leaving her just short of a majority. Both Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who announced his candidacy late last month, received 3 percent of the vote. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who is considering a bid, won 2 percent of the vote, while former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who announced his long-shot candidacy last week, received 1 percent.

The result is another encouraging sign for Sanders, who is drawing large crowds in early nominating states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. In the two weeks since he announced his candidacy, the Vermont senator has seen an uptick in the polls against Clinton — who remains the heavy favorite — and Sanders is showing signs he could pick up some supporters of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the progressive icon who has said repeatedly that she will not run for president in 2016.

Clinton won last year’s straw poll, with Warren coming in second.
Neither Clinton nor Sanders attended this year’s convention, though a party official read a letter from the former secretary of state, in which Clinton vowed to help build the state party and to visit Wisconsin soon.

I’d say that’s about right: the straw poll is a sign that Sanders is attracting a goodly percentage of Elizabeth Warren fans, and isn’t letting HRC run away with the nomination. But this is Wisconsin, a state with a strong progressive tradition and a very powerful–within the Democratic Party, anyway–labor movement, both helpful to Sanders.

If you want a more Bernie-positive account, you can check out the post by John Nichols–a Wisconsin political veteran–at The Nation.

But here’s why if you are a Sanders supporter you might want to curb your justified enthusiasm just a tad.

In the spectrum of contests ranging from the most to the least representative of the voters who will be counted on to lift the Democratic presidential nominee to victory, at one extreme is probably a full-on primary in which independents (but not Republicans) are allowed to participate. Then you have, alternatively, a closed primary in which only Democrats are allowed, and an open primary where anybody can participate; both have their problems, depending on the state (states with no party registration really have no alternative to an open primary). Then there’s a “firehouse primary” which is usually a party-run event with limited precincts but simple voting. then there are the less complicated forms of party caucuses with broad participation, and they can be divided into those with simple (Iowa Republican) and complex (Iowa Democratic) rules for participating and counting the votes. There are also “open” and “closed” caucuses of every variety. Continuing down the spectrum to flatly unrepresentative events, there are state party conventions attended almost entirely by activists. And then there are “straw polls” at state party conventions and other gatherings (e.g., the entirely artificial event the Iowa Republicans hold purely for the purpose of raising money around a straw poll).

According to the media outlet that conducted the Wisconsin Democratic State Convention, wispolitics.com, about a third of the attendees at that event participated in the straw poll that gave Sanders his moral victory.

And a moral victory it is, but at this early point mainly a straw in the wind.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.