Bernie Sanders is likely to start racking up a series of victories over the next two to three weeks as the Democratic primary heads out West.
The big problem for Sanders is that many of the states where he is expected to do well are small. So while his supporters might be thrilled to see him on a hot streak, it's unlikely that even substantial wins will do much to change the underlying math of the race.
"Even if he wins every state from here on out, he probably couldn't catch [Hillary] Clinton in terms of pledged delegates," says Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "The math is really, really daunting."
Sanders could win the remaining primaries by 55 percent and the remaining caucuses by 65 percent and still finish well behind Clinton, who is currently leading by around 300 pledged delegates, according to Kondik. (Vox's Andrew Prokop found Sanders needed to win about 58 percent of the remaining delegates to catch Clinton.)
"If he's winning 70, 75 percent of the vote in these places, maybe it changes the calculus a little bit. He needs what seems to be unrealistically high margins in the remaining states to catch Clinton," Kondik said.
That said, Sanders really might win some of the upcoming contests by huge margins. And that could make Clinton's big delegate lead look, if not within striking distance, certainly much less formidable than it does right now.
Sanders could win some big landslide victories over the next two weeks
So far, Sanders has defeated Clinton in every state where black voters make up less than 8 percent of the population but one (Iowa). He's also done much better in states that vote via caucuses, which reward candidates with particularly energetic and motivated supporters.
Both of those trends suggest Sanders could clean up in the overwhelming number of the eight states that will be voting between now and April 9.
Sanders should take Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah — heavily white states with demographics that closely mirror some of his strongest results so far, like Oklahoma and Nebraska.
He'll also be looking for a landslide in Washington state, which is a heavily white, heavily liberal caucus state. It may be the most favorable state to Sanders as anywhere outside of Vermont and New Hampshire.
The remaining three contests over the 18 day stretch — Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Arizona — are tougher to call but could lean toward Sanders.
There doesn't appear to be much polling out of Hawaii, but it is among the most liberal states in the country. Wisconsin looks a lot like Michigan, where Sanders beat Clinton by about 2 points, according to Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University.
Arizona is probably likely to lean slightly toward Clinton, Abramowitz said. Most close trackers of the race consider it the most important of the eight states to watch, largely because Arizona is likely to give us our best guess yet of who can win in California — where a whopping 475 delegates are up for grabs on June 7.
After these small contests, the race shifts back to Clinton terrain
Sanders shocked the political world with his victory in Michigan, where he had trailed in most polls by double digits. After that upset, Abramowitz created a simple model to predict the race based on two demographic factors: region and race.
Post-Michigan, the model suggested Sanders could carry many of the delegate-rich Rust Belt states that lie ahead, like Pennsylvania and New York. But Abramowitz has since adjusted his model to account for Sanders's big 15-point loss in Ohio last week — and now there's much less of a reason to believe he'll have a chance.
"With the big industrial states, Clinton would be favored — not by an enormous amount, but it looks like she should win those by margins of around 10 points," Abramowitz said.
After the favorable Sanders stretch ending on April 9, the terrain shifts back to favoring Clinton. There's the April 19 primary in New York, where she was senator for eight years, followed by a slate of Democratic establishment-friendly states on April 26 including Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Combined, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland put 531 delegates at stake. That's compared with the 265 delegates available in the all of the eight next contests that should be favorable to Sanders.
There's going to be some positive spin coming from Sanders's campaign if he wins a sweep over the next two to three weeks in the West and in Arizona. But all of that will be mostly noise unless he can do something to move ahead in other parts of the map.
"He would need to win some of these big states by big margins," Abramowitz said. "And I doubt he can do that."