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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Hillary Clinton clinch talk skews her battle with Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a rally at

Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a rally at Long Beach City College on the final day of California campaigning on Monday, June 6, 2016. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Jonathan Alcorn

After The Associated Press reported Monday that Hillary Clinton lined up enough Democratic National Convention delegates to be nominated, rival Bernie Sanders’ surrogate Jonathan Tasini snapped into satire mode.

“Breaking news: AP reports Chicago Cubs have clinched the World Series, no need to play games,” tweeted Tasini, a New York City resident who has run in primaries himself.

His spoof has a point.

For one thing, so-called superdelegates — mostly Democrats in Congress and party insiders — don’t actually vote until the party convenes in Philadelphia next month.

They also can change their minds beforehand. No matter how many delegates Clinton wins by the ballot, she will need a share of superdelegates to put her over the top.

The language here gets a bit distortive. When we say Clinton “clinched” the nomination, it sounds like a major league team clinching a playoff spot. But it isn’t the same.

In sports, a “clinch” means there is no mathematical way a rival can catch up and dislodge the leader even if that rival wins every game for the rest of the season.

The primaries don’t work that way. If voters in the remaining primary contests thought they knew the outcome in advance, it could skew results — just as it does when networks “project” winners before the polls close.

Bear in mind: Clinton, for many weeks, has led Sanders significantly in total votes as well as delegate counts. And that didn’t look like it was about to change after California, New Jersey and four other states held primaries Tuesday. Sanders’ chances really did grow narrower as each day passed.

Still, there’s an important matter of perception. Fueling even remote or irrational suspicions of a fix casts a cloud on the process. Announcing a “clinch” can skew the remaining results based on voters’ belief that their ballots won’t affect the outcome.

Late Monday, Clinton reacted awkwardly to the AP survey as she campaigned on the eve of the last major primaries. “I got to tell you, according to the news, we are on the brink of a historic, historic, unprecedented moment, but we still have work to do, don’t we?” she told one audience.

The Sanders camp held to this position: “Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination. Our job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.”

For now, the what-does-Bernie-want question intensifies. The more delegates he has heading into the convention, the more leverage he has — for some political purpose.

But the more the superdelegates believe it’s all over, the more a herding instinct kicks in, which gives fewer delegates any incentive to break from the Clinton pack.

If this is to be compared to a baseball league, imagine one in which the fans in the stands and the clubhouses have a lot of say over the final win-loss records.

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