The Democrats' election chief said Wednesday that party leaders fully expect Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE (I-Vt.) to remain in the White House race through the entire primary season.
"We have 14 primaries remaining and, you know, our expectation is that this primary will run through its normal ... process," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told reporters in the Capitol.
Sanders is trailing former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE by a wide margin in the delegate race, a gap that increased considerably on Tuesday after Clinton's lopsided wins in a handful of Atlantic Coast primaries. While Sanders took Rhode Island, Clinton won Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Those dynamics have led some Democrats to call on Sanders to step aside so party leaders can focus their attacks on Republicans and the general election in November. But Wasserman Schultz applied no such pressure on Wednesday, saying the DNC is fully capable of overseeing the long primary contest while preparing for the eventual showdown with Republicans.
"June 7 is our last day for primaries, and ... the decision of the candidates at that point will be theirs," she said. "So we're at the same time managing the primary nominating contest, making sure that ... it's handled in a neutral way. Alongside that we're preparing for the general election."
Wasserman Schultz also dismissed the notion that the long primary will harm the party in November.
"We walk and chew gum at the same time at the DNC," she said.
The comments are the latest acknowledgment from Democratic leaders that Sanders, who has performed far better in the race than most expected, is in the contest for the long haul. It's a vow Sanders repeated Tuesday night, saying he's looking forward "to issue-oriented campaigns in the 14 contests to come."
"The people in every state in this country should have the right to determine who they want as president and what the agenda of the Democratic Party should be," Sanders said in a statement. "That’s why we are in this race until the last vote is cast. That is why this campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform."
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), an early Clinton backer, stopped short of urging Sanders to step aside, but he suggested Democrats are concerned the debate has become personal in a manner that might hurt the party in November. He called for a focus on issues through the remainder of the campaign.
"I do think we're maybe at that point in the campaign that we begin to focus solely on the issues," said Crowley, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
"I'm under no illusions that Sen. Sanders will withdraw at this point. I'm not calling for him to do that, but he's going to continue to hopefully talk about the issues," he added. "What unifies us, at this point, are the issues that we care about."