PORTLAND, Ore. — With the final hours of Oregon's Tuesday presidential primary approaching, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he is banking on his strong base of progressive Oregonian supporters to help him beat the odds and take his campaign all the way to the Democratic National Convention.
Speaking from a car in Puerto Rico, where the Democratic primary is early next month, Sanders told The Associated Press on Monday he'll win big in Oregon — self-proclaimed Sanders country — if there's strong voter turnout.
Sanders emphasized the role the state plays in his long-shot attempt at claiming the Democratic nomination through a brokered convention in July. He's held three Oregon rallies since last month. Front-runner Hillary Clinton — who suffered a big primary loss in Oregon against President Barack Obama in 2008 — sent Bill Clinton twice but has not visited herself. She spent Monday campaigning in Kentucky, which also has a Tuesday primary.
"We have an uphill fight to victory, but it remains a possibility," Sanders said. "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."
Among the nine Democratic primaries and caucuses still remaining, Oregon's 61-delegate count is relatively small and its primary is closed, meaning voters can only weigh in if they are members of the Democratic party. Sanders has performed better in primaries where independents or other voters can weigh in.
Oregon's delegates are doled out proportionally based on Tuesday's results, another reason why Sanders urges a strong turnout.
Oregon also has 13 superdelegates, some of whom have already endorsed Clinton, including Gov. Kate Brown. But Sanders says it's possible they'll reconsider if Tuesday's results swing overwhelmingly in his favor.
"We will be in contact with all of the superdelegates and make the important point, that if our goal is to make sure Donald Trump is defeated ... Bernie Sanders, it turns out, is the strongest candidate," Sanders said.
As of early Monday morning, the secretary of state's office reported 673,000 Oregonians, or 29 percent of registered voters, had so far returned their ballots.
That's slightly behind pace from the same time in 2008, but the state secretary's office said it's still possible Oregon could break that year's record turnout of 1.17 million voters.
Aside from the presidential race, Oregon's primary is sleepy with just a few exceptions.
Among the most heated is the race for secretary of state, where five prominent candidates are vying for the second-most powerful post behind governor. The three Democrats are state Rep. Val Hoyle, state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Sen. Richard Devlin; the two Republicans are Dennis Richardson, who was GOP gubernatorial candidate two years ago, and Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken.
Together, they've spent about $2.54 million since last year, especially in recent weeks on the Democratic side. Devlin and Avakian blasted Hoyle in ads and on social media for accepting $250,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg due to her role in passing Oregon's gun control law in 2015.