Clinton's primary sweep puts Sanders against the ropes — and Trump in the ring
Wins in 4 states and likely win in 5th will cement Clinton’s nomination, pundits say
There's plenty of fight left, to be sure. But Hillary Clinton was warming up for a new opponent, someone who isn't Bernie Sanders.
At least it felt that way in the West Palm Beach hall where Clinton convened her victory rally here on Tuesday, shortly after delivering a shellacking to her Democratic rival in the party's Florida primary.
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"We should be breaking down barriers, not building walls!" Clinton said to wild cheering.
A good commander-in-chief, she added, should want to "bring our country together again."
They were clear call-outs challenging Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, echoing the soundbites that the New York real estate billionaire has built his political brand upon.
As results poured in from her primary win here in Florida, as well as in Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and likely Missouri (where she leads by 1,531 votes with just two precincts yet to report), Sanders seemed to fade into an afterthought for Clinton.
Much of her 13-minute speech assailed Trump. She dedicated only a few seconds to congratulating Sanders "for the vigorous campaign he's waging."
With the Vermont senator's odds of surmounting the delegate math to win the Democratic nomination getting thinner, Clinton's pivot towards Trump in her messaging made Steve Schale perk up when he heard it.
"Really, it felt like the first speech of the general election," the Democratic strategist said.
"To me, I heard this 'bringing the country together,' values type of language, and you saw her beginning to lay out her vision as president, not just as the Democratic nominee."
Schale, who managed President Barack Obama's 2008 Florida state campaign, said the speech was the kind that might appeal to an undecided Republican in a swing state, "someone who's turned off by Donald Trump, but isn't sure she wants to vote for a Democrat — yet."
Spectators at the Clinton event waved placards, roared approval and pumped their arms in front of a blue graphic projected on a screen: "Fighting for us," it read.
Clinton, with a little hoarseness in her voice, had all the right moves.
Her call for affordable child care drew some applause. The line mentioning paid family leave elicited whoops of approval. When she reached "equal pay for equal work for women," the room erupted into cheers.
Cecilia Liangco's eyes were still moist when she left the rally. She was thinking about the hardships single mothers have to go through, she said, and was moved by Clinton's message to lift the middle class.
"With Hillary, I have hope," she said. "Some people need a boost."
Seema Pathak, 23, came with her mother, Neena, to the Palm Beach County Convention Center to support Clinton.
"We feel empowered," Pathak said. "We feel she can unify the [Democratic] party, and she's willing to work with the other side. And she called Trump out, but it was tactful."
Sanders, speaking for an hour in Phoenix, Ariz., kept on message with a screed about launching a political revolution and correcting wealth inequality. He did not mention the night's results.
"We cannot go forward unless we deal with the realities of American society today, and that is what we are going to do," he said. "Truth number 1 is that today we have a corrupt campaign finance system, with Wall Street and billionaires spending unlimited sums of money, which is undermining American democracy."
Clinton's rout on Tuesday was somewhat unexpected, the Ohio result in particular.
She was widely expected to win Florida and North Carolina, and did so, taking 141 delegates to Sanders's 73 in Florida. Florida also has 32 superdelegates, most of whom committed to Clinton.
In North Carolina, with 95 per cent of precincts having reported in, 59 delegates went to Clinton and 45 pledged for Sanders. In addition, North Carolina has 14 superdelegates.
Ohio was less certain.
Her win there came after Sanders pulled off a stunning upset in Michigan on March 8, a feat that had pundits questioning whether Sanders might carry more rust belt states.
Schale noted that it also helped Sanders spin the media narrative on Michigan as a victory, even though Clinton extended her delegate lead overall.
Team Sanders was banking on Ohio to repeat the Michigan success.
Sanders's opposition to trade deals as U.S. job killers — and his repeated reminders that Clinton supported NAFTA — likely helped him in the Wolverine State, where the manufacturing industry has been decimated.
"A lot of people were thinking Ohio would just go the way of Michigan," said Susan MacManus, a politics and media professor at the University of South Florida. "Sanders' people were hopeful he would capture the blue-collar worker vote in Ohio, but his message didn't have the same impact, I think in part because the economy of Ohio is a little better, and trade was not as much an issue there."
The proportional allocation of delegates means Sanders will need to not only consistently win every state going forward, but win them by large margins of 20 to 25 percentage points.
Ignoring all superdelegates, the pledged delegate totals on the morning of March 16 looked like this:
- Clinton — 1,132 pledged
- Sanders — 818 pledged
Clinton's delegate count, according to an Associated Press tally, stood at 1,599 Wednesday morning. That figure included 467 superdelegates, who can back whichever Democratic candidate they choose.
In total, her haul was 755 more delegates than Sanders has won so far, counting his 26 superdelegates. (Taking into account only pledged delegates, Clinton's tally on Wednesday was 1,132 compared to Sanders's 818 pledged delegates.)
The magic number to win the Democratic nomination is 2,383 delegates, which puts Clinton in a commanding position.
Although Sanders has mounted a remarkable grassroots campaign with five million donors and has committed to staying in the race through the Democratic national convention in July, Schale believes Tuesday's results were decisive.
"This really cements Clinton as the presumptive nominee, and it's time for Sanders to help unify the party," he said. "The spectre of Donald Trump being within 10 feet of the nuclear codes is downright frightening, so it's important to focus now on the real goal: To ensure Trump doesn't get near the Oval Office."
- After publication, information was added to this story to clarify the number of pledges from delegates and from superdelegates.Apr 11, 2016 1:33 PM ET