Bernie Sanders Looks for High Turnout to Fuel Kentucky, Oregon Upsets

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Bernie Sanders Looks for High Turnout to Fuel Kentucky, Oregon Upsets

Despite Sanders' decisive win in next-door Washington state in March and Oregon's progressive bent, the state's closed primary could work against the Vermont senator

Bernie Sanders galvanized a massive crowd in Portland, Oregon last summer. (Photo: Benjamin Kerensa/flickr/cc)

"Needless to say, what I hope we'll be seeing is a very large voter turnout," Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders told an Oregon newspaper over the weekend ahead of the state's closed primary on Tuesday.

It seems the Vermont senator may get his wish, with Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins saying Monday that voters are on track to cast more than one million votes in a primary election for only the second time in state history. The first time, according to The Oregonian, was in 2008 and "was driven most acutely by Obama-crazed voters wanting a say in the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary show-down."

But while the state's automatic voter registration and vote-by-mail systems are helping make Oregon's elections "more accessible and convenient for voters," as Jonathan Brater of the Brennan Center wrote in April, it's not all good news for Sanders—despite his decisive win in next-door Washington state in March, Oregon's progressive bent, and the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

That's because the "so-called 'motor voter' law...hasn't made it much easier to participate in Oregon's closed primary on Tuesday," the Associated Press reported last week. Sanders, who acknowledges that he fares better when independent and "non-traditional" voters are allowed to cast ballots, has yet to win a closed primary, or one restricted only to voters who are registered as Republican or Democrat.

The AP continued:

Under the new law, Oregonians 18 and up are automatically registered to vote while renewing or applying for a driver's license or state ID card, but they can't pick a party at that time. Instead, they're registered by default as nonaffiliated, and a few days later they can choose a party or opt out on a form sent by mail.

Most people, however, don't return their forms.

As a result, three-quarters of the motor voter registrants are unable to vote for a presidential candidate Tuesday.

"That may be one factor driving last week's surprising poll showing Hillary Clinton leading Sanders in Oregon," wrote senior political reporter Jeff Mapes for Oregon Public Broadcasting on Monday. That DHM Research survey, one of just two taken this year, showed Clinton ahead of Sanders, 48 percent to 33 percent.

Still, FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten said Tuesday, "Sanders has a good shot at taking Oregon," where 61 pledged delegates are at stake.

Polling has been similarly lacking in Kentucky, which also holds its primary on Tuesday—the last survey there, released in March, had Clinton ahead by five points. Fifty-five pledged delegates are up for grabs in this closed primary.

Both candidates have been campaigning heavily in the Bluegrass state: Sanders drew thousands to his weekend rallies in Paducah and Bowling Green, while Clinton—who the Washington Post said "hopes to benefit from a different political environment than the one that greeted her in nearby West Virginia, a state she lost last week by 15 points"—drew several hundred to events in Louisville and Fort Mitchell.

The Post wrote:

Clinton also faces significant challenges here. She is still answering for a gaffe she made in March, when she said that her renewable energy plan would put the coal industry “out of business.” West Virginia voters got an apology from Clinton ahead of their primary, and she has said the remark was taken out of context. But the effects of that comment still sting in Kentucky, where mining is a smaller but still important industry in parts of the state.

Sanders, for his part, continues looking forward.

"We have an uphill fight to victory, but it remains a possibility," Sanders said in an interview Monday with the Associated Press. "Right now we've got about 45.5 percent of the pledged delegates. My hope is that if we can do well in Oregon tomorrow, do well in Kentucky, and especially California coming up, which has more delegates than any other state, I hope that at the process we will have got 50 percent of the delegates and then can go into the convention with the majority."

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