PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY – Bernie Sanders pledged to thousands of cheering supporters Sunday at Rutgers University that he will stick out the Democratic presidential race until the very last primary June 14 in Washington, D.C.
“We are in this campaign to win,” said the senator from Vermont, who sought to secure votes before New Jersey’s June 7 primary.
But a political expert and even some of Sanders’ ardent backers at the rally acknowledged Sanders will likely lose the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination to front-runner Hillary Clinton, who is leading by large margins in polls and delegates.
Sanders hosted what his campaign said was 6,700 supporters at the Louis Brown/Rutgers Athletic Center here. He took the stage to deafening cheers, and the crowd booed his mention of Clinton.
Sanders insisted he was the best choice for Democrats who want to soundly defeat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in the general election.
“I am happy to tell you that Donald Trump will not become president,” Sanders said. “He will not become president of the United States because in every national poll that I have seen and in most statewide polls, we beat him by double-digit numbers. And if Democrats want to mount the strongest candidate against Trump, they should look at those polls.”
Clinton appeared to enjoy a widening lead over Sanders in the Garden State and a political expert said Democrats nationwide will begin to coalesce behind her now that the Republican race is buttoned up for Trump.
“Post Trump winning the nomination, many Democrats are now getting antsy,” Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer said, adding of Clinton, “They want to make sure that they have a strong ticket and that may push her a little higher than she was a month ago.”
A Monmouth University poll last week showed Clinton with a 2-to-1 lead over Sanders in New Jersey.
There are 142 Democratic delegates at stake in the state’s winner-take-all primary.
In a candid moment at the rally, Sanders supporters took turns shouting to him the amounts of student debt they owe.
“How much?” he asked each directly before declaring, “There’s a lot of debt in this room.”
The candidate wants to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, and to cut student loan interest rates.
Some backers said they were realistic enough to understand it was mathematically impossible for Sanders to catch up to Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator for New York and first lady.
Rutgers sophomore Kevin Fisher, 20, admitted a Democratic nomination for his candidate was “not going to happen.”
Fisher said, however, that he hoped Sanders would launch a third-party bid that may be more successful considering the national unfavorability ratings of Clinton and Trump.
“He’s the honest candidate,” said Fisher of Middletown, New Jersey. “There’s a very strong following for Bernie.”
Fisher and others said Sanders has notched a moral victory in pushing Clinton to the left and igniting a national conversation about income inequality and climate change.
Sanders was also set to campaign Monday morning on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Clinton will stump Wednesday in Camden County.