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Can Bernie Sanders pull off upset win over Hillary Clinton in California?

As the primary season heads toward its final weekend of campaigning, all three remaining candidates are canvassing feverishly in California ahead of Tuesday’s vote, especially trailing contender Bernie Sanders, who’s banking on a big win in the Golden State to reverse Hillary Clinton’s seemingly inevitable march to the Democratic nomination. John Yang talks to Scott Shafer of KQED for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    As the primary season reaches its final weeks of campaigning, all three candidates are stumping in California, the state with the largest delegate haul.

    John Yang takes a closer look at the tightening race on the Democratic side.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Thanks, Hari.

    For weeks, Bernie Sanders has campaigned all across California, gaining momentum ahead of next week's big primary. That's forced Hillary Clinton to spend more time and money in the Golden State.

    For more on that, I'm joined by Scott Shafer. He's senior editor for KQED's California politics and government desk.

    Scott, thanks for being with us.

    I know you have been out on the campaign trail today. The polls in California have been all the over the place, but I think they seem to be showing agreement that the race really has tightened. What happened? What's going on here?

  • SCOTT SHAFER, KQED:

    Yes, we have now four polls, John, in the last week that show this is basically a dead heat.

    I think what is happening is this. California is a very diverse state. It has about a quarter of the electorate are Latino. It's got a large — 10 percent or so Asian-American voters, African-American voters, and the conventional wisdom has been that those voters give Hillary Clinton the kind of firewall, that they were reliable Clinton voters.

    What we're seeing is, as these polls have tightened, Bernie Sanders has done a really good job doing outreach to those communities. He's ahead with Asian-Americans in one poll. He's roughly even with Latinos. And so that's why we have seen this race tighten up so much. It's really — they're scrapping now for every single vote that's out there.

  • JOHN YANG:

    What are the issues that are helping him along, helping Sanders make those inroads among those communities?

  • SCOTT SHAFER:

    Well, I think, you know, income inequality has been a big part of his message, and California is a very expensive state.

    I know you're going to be talking more about that later in the program, and so it resonates with folks. There's a lot of students and former students here that have college debt, student loans that they haven't paid off. That's really working to his advantage.

    But I think a lot of it, too, is — he's the hot ticket in town, so to speak. He's sort of like the Golden State Warriors or the San Jose Sharks. They're now in the finals. And even if you weren't following those teams during the regular season, now it's come down to the finals and you want to get involved, you want to go to a game, you want to be part of it.

    And so I think he is generating that kind of excitement. Hillary Clinton is very familiar to Californians. She's been on the ballot here. She beat Barack Obama here in 2008. Her husband won twice in California. So, he's a newer personality, and he's generating a lot of enthusiasm, especially among younger voters.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And the polls are showing that there are some unusually wide differences among the core supporters for each candidate.

    What are the polls showing?

  • SCOTT SHAFER:

    Well, there is a huge generational divide, John.

    You have got voters who are 65 and older 2-1 for Clinton. You have got voters who are 35, 30 and younger 5-1 for Bernie Sanders. You have got Democrats who are skewing toward Hillary Clinton. Then you have got independent nonpartisan voters, we call them no-party-preference voters in California. They're definitely leaning toward Bernie Sanders.

    And so that's really why turnout is so important, because it really depends exactly on what the electorate looks like now. Because we vote by mail and we have early voting, two million people, more than two million, have already their ballots.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And pollsters have also been asking people if they have already voted who they voted for. What are they finding?

  • SCOTT SHAFER:

    Well, according to the Field Poll, which came out today, there is definitely an advantage among people who have already voted for Clinton. They prefer her.

    That's not too surprising. Her voters tend to be older. They tend to be reliable, regular voters. So it's not surprising that you would see an advantage to her. Now, it's always great for a campaign to get those votes in the bank, so you can focus on the voters who haven't yet cast their ballots.

    But if you look at the larger electorate, it's much closer. Independent, nonpartisan voters definitely support Bernie Sanders over Clinton. And so his challenge will be getting those people to the polls, and they have some challenges to cast ballots, and they have got to overcome those challenges.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Talk about those challenges. It's a semi-closed primary. What does that mean, and how easy is it for those no-party-preference voters to get a Democratic ballot?

  • SCOTT SHAFER:

    So, Republicans only allowed registered Republicans to vote in the primary here, but Democrats have allowed these non-partisan, no-preference-party voters to come in and vote in their primary.

    If you are one of those voters and you don't ask for a Democratic ballot with Clinton and Sanders on it, you are going to get a ballot where it's blank at the top. And so you have had to by May 31 request a mail-in ballot for the Democrats. Now, a lot of people haven't done that. Some of these are younger voters, new voters.

    They may open their ballot the day before the election and realize, where is Sanders and Clinton? They then have to go to the polling place and exchange their ballot. Maybe they have planned to do that. Maybe they haven't.

    So, in fact, there was a lawsuit over this very thing. Sanders supporters sued two counties and the state — secretary of state in California. The judge in that case threw it out. But they wanted to extend the voter registration deadline right up until the election on June 7. That's not going to happen, but there is a fair amount of confusion.

  • JOHN YANG:

    We have got a little less than a minute left, Scott.

    That's a challenge for the Sanders voters, it sounds like, but there has also been a surge in new voter registration. Are there signs in there that could help Sanders?

  • SCOTT SHAFER:

    There are.

    The new registrants or many of them are young. Now, you would expect that, because who registers to vote? People who are turning 18, people who have moved to a place and now they want to register to vote. So it's not that surprising.

    But, nonetheless, those are the voters he needs to turn out. They are also — they also skew Democrats. So that helps Hillary Clinton. So, again, that's why not only getting your — getting a ballot into the hands of these folks, but getting them to turn it in on time, is so important. And it is — like I said, it is a challenge, but they're very motivated.

    The upside for the Sanders campaign is that when you look at the polls, his supporters are much more excited and enthused to be voting than Hillary Clinton's. So you have to think that's going to auger well for him on Election Day.

  • JOHN YANG:

    So, a game of voter turnout.

    Scott Shafer from KQED, thanks for joining us.

  • SCOTT SHAFER:

    You bet.

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