Columnists Earl Ofari Hutchinson Opinion

THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: California matters in Democratic race

The recent USC Dornside/Los Angeles Times statewide poll that headlined that Hillary Clinton is coasting in California is terribly misleading. Buried in the fine print of the poll is that Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders among Democrats and independents was only eight percentage points.

The poll was taken before Sanders sweep of the Washington, Alaska and Hawaii Democratic caucuses and primaries last weekend. His sweep of those three contests only told part of the story.

Sanders didn’t just win the contests, he crushed Clinton in them. He received upwards of 70 to 85 percent of the overall votes. What was equally significant is that these were caucuses and primaries exclusively for Democratic voters.

The clear and present danger to Clinton from the results is that the California primary June 7, will be anything but a cakewalk for Clinton. That is a radical turn for a primary and a state that as late as a month ago was considered the final firewall for Clinton to nail down the required number of delegates to bag the Democratic presidential nomination.

It’s also a big change for California and Los Angeles County, which hasn’t had a real, knock-down, slugfest between Democratic presidential candidates since 1968. Even the face-off between Clinton and Obama in the 2008 primary wasn’t much of a contest.

Clinton won the state hands down that year when Obama virtually conceded it to her.

Sanders gets much of the credit for putting California in play and giving Democrats here a real spirited reason for dashing to the polls. He has pounded relentlessly on wealth and income inequality, the towering sins of Wall Street, and has made gargantuan promises of free college, virtually free health care and a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system if elected.

Sanders has shown in his own way that a presidential candidate can have a seemingly radical program or no program at all and still fire up millions and actually get them to go to the polls to vote for him. The operative words are passion and disgust with beltway politicians who many believe routinely lie, cheat, cut deals, rake in a king’s ransom in cash from special interests and don’t give a hoot for the people.

Clinton, unfortunately, is seen by a big swatch of those angry, frustrated and alienated voters as one of those beltway politicians. Sanders isn’t. That is a big part of his appeal.

The few times that he has come to Los Angeles and other California cities, he has drawn rock star crowds to his events. People have stood in line for hours, and most look at Sanders with starry-eyed adulation while imbibing his message. To them, he’s the real hope and change candidate that they saw in Obama eight years ago.

The passion and inspiration that Sanders has injected into the Democratic primary campaign has been a sight to behold.

Now the big Achilles Heel for Sanders has been how to peel off some of Clinton’s seemingly lock down support from African-American and Hispanic voters. She creamed Sanders in the primaries in the Deep South states with the black vote and in Nevada with the Hispanic vote.

However, a window of opportunity has opened for Sanders. In the Michigan primary, he got almost one-third of the black vote. This showed that Sanders pitch about battling police abuse, racial profiling, overhauling the school-to-prison pipeline and his stock pitch about hammering the wealthy, had some resonance among black voters.

It could have the same effect in Los Angeles County and other parts of the state with black and Hispanic voters. It will take a massive, concerted and targeted effort by Sanders, his volunteers and campaign staff in South L.A., East L.A., and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

If Sanders is willing to plunge headlong into these areas campaigning with a racial justice message, then he has a fighting chance to nab a significant number of black and Hispanic votes. And he must be willing to actively court or at least try to get a hearing from black and Hispanic community leaders.

The big word for him and his L.A. and California fortunes is “significant.”

He doesn’t have to win a majority of black and Hispanic votes, which won’t happen anyway. Most will still go to Clinton.

But, as he showed in Michigan, bumping up his black vote total measurably could actually win a primary in a northern state that has a large percentage of minority voters.

No matter what the final outcome of the June Democratic primary is, California is on the verge of achieving something it hasn’t achieved in decades and that’s a real competitive Democratic primary in which Sanders and Clinton will have to actually spend time in the state and work hard to get black and Hispanic votes. That is a good thing for them, for Democrats and for California.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles” (Amazon Kindle). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.