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What To Expect In The Democratic Primaries In Kentucky And Oregon

Today’s Democratic primaries in Kentucky and Oregon are the last meaningful ones of the month.1 Hillary Clinton is a slight favorite in Kentucky (with 55 delegates at stake), and Bernie Sanders has a good shot at taking Oregon (with 61 delegates at stake). Overall, Sanders probably won’t make much of a dent in Clinton’s lead of 280 elected delegates, because all Democratic primaries allocate their delegates proportionally. Unless Sanders wins by a very large margin, which is unlikely, he won’t pick up many more delegates than Clinton will.

Kentucky doesn’t line up particularly well for either candidate demographically. My colleague Nate Silver’s demographic model, released in late April, projects that Clinton will win the state by about 2 percentage points. Why? In the last general election with an exit poll in every state (2008), whites made up about 75 percent of Barack Obama voters in Kentucky. That’s good — but not great — news for Sanders, who has done better with white voters than nonwhite voters. Blacks, meanwhile, made up about 25 percent. What could turn the tide for Clinton is that Kentucky is a closed primary, which means only registered Democrats can vote. Sanders has done better among unaffiliated voters in open primaries. There’s been limited polling in Kentucky, but the last poll released there (in early March) had Clinton ahead by 5 percentage points.

Oregon is different. Nate’s demographic model gives Sanders an edge of about 15 percentage points. That’s because whites made up about 90 percent of Obama voters in the 2008 general election. Keep in mind too that Sanders won next door in the Washington caucuses in March by about 45 percentage points. Clinton is expected to do better in Oregon because, unlike Washington, Oregon is a primary and is closed to non-Democrats. I should note that the only two polls taken this year, including one taken this month, have shown Clinton ahead, so it’s possible that she’ll pull it out.

Of course, the only thing that matters is delegates. If Clinton wins Kentucky by 2 percentage points and Sanders wins Oregon by 15 percentage points, this translates into Sanders cutting his elected delegate deficit by about eight. That would leave Clinton with a lead of 272 elected delegates with very few primaries left.


  1. Washington state had its Democratic caucuses in March, and no delegates will be elected in its primary May 24.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.