Tuesday Results Could Be Democrats' Pivot Point

Tuesday Results Could Be Democrats' Pivot Point
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Hillary Clinton believes her support in Super Tuesday states could all but knock Bernie Sanders out of the delegate hunt for the Democratic nomination, and she campaigned Monday like a candidate focused on a GOP opponent.

“When you go to vote tomorrow, you'll be voting for a president and commander-in-chief, right?” Clinton said Monday at George Mason University, after castigating Republican presidential candidates for their cacophony of insults and accusations.

“We need somebody who has the experience and the temperament to deal with what's going on in the world,” she said at her event in Virginia, a state holding one of 11 Democratic primary and caucus contests Tuesday. (Voters in Alaska will caucus for Republican candidates only on March 1; Democrats will caucus there on March 26.)

Sanders, currently behind Clinton in pledged delegates as well as super delegates, has promised only that his campaign will “do well” when the Tuesday returns are counted. But the delegate math and demographics in key states may be his undoing as Clinton works to swiftly solidify her base of minority voters, women and older whites in order to block Sanders’ paths to the nomination.

“I think the future for us is, it’s going to be a tough fight,” the Vermont senator said last week.

“Eleven states vote tomorrow, and twelve more vote over the next two weeks,” he told supporters Monday via email. “It is the most important stretch of our campaign.”

Sanders said he wants to reclaim some of the momentum he experienced with his decisive victory in New Hampshire and inspire higher turnout for his White House bid, especially among younger voters who flock to his rallies but are less reliable when it comes to casting ballots for the Democratic socialist. Sanders, aware that polls have measured large leads for Clinton in the South, said his focus this week is Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and his home state.

Stumping in Minnesota, for example, Sanders embraced President Obama’s record of accomplishments, but he drew sharp lines of contrast with Obama’s former Cabinet colleague when it came to Clinton’s Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq, her record of support for free trade pacts, her paid speeches to financial and corporate titans, and her embrace of super PACs and wealthy donors.

“Minnesota can play a profound and important role in moving this country forward toward a political revolution on Tuesday, just a few days from now,” Sanders told an enthusiastic audience in Rochester, Minn., on Saturday.

Polls show the former secretary of state outpacing Sanders in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, as well as Massachusetts. The mathematical challenge for each candidate remains 2,382 delegates needed for the nomination in a contest where the delegate prizes accrue on a proportional, not winner-take-all, basis. Sanders has targeted Super Tuesday states where his message resonates but the potential hauls are smaller (288 total delegates in play in the five states his campaign has concentrated on), compared with a total of 577 total delegates in the remaining Super Tuesday states.

Clinton hopes to mow through 30 contests in March and extinguish Sanders’ viable options to compete, even as the senator’s fundraising remains competitive. Late Monday night, Sanders’ campaign said it raised more than $40 million in February, largely through online appeals for small contributions.

Sanders is looking ahead to Michigan on March 8 (he and Clinton will debate in Flint on March 6), and to later contests, including April 19 in New York, a state Clinton represented in the Senate (247 total delegates), and California on June 5 (475 total delegates).

Clinton’s impressive showing Saturday in the South Carolina primary demonstrated that a majority of African-American progressives, who abandoned her candidacy in favor of Barack Obama in 2008, support her now. Exit polls found that 87 percent of black voters participating in the Palmetto State primary backed Clinton, compared with 13 percent who favored Sanders.

The win put her ahead of her rival, 91-65, in total pledged delegates. The endorsements from lawmakers, party officials and other VIPs who will be super delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July place Clinton well ahead of Sanders. Super delegates and pledged delegates total 519 for the former first lady, versus 86 for the senator, according to a running tally by NBC News.

As often as the former first lady has promised voters she will “break down barriers” as president, the firewall she has built as a candidate appears to rise in the South, where turnout among African-American Democrats is key in Super Tuesday states such as Alabama, Arkansas (where Clinton served as a first lady while her husband was governor), Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The commonwealth’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, is a longtime Clinton backer and chaired the Democratic National Committee during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The outcome Tuesday may also measure how Democratic primary voters are assessing a Republican presidential field dominated by real estate mogul Donald Trump. If Trump steams toward the GOP nomination, the Democratic primary results may offer deeper insights into voters’ evolving thoughts about a hypothetical match-up between Trump and either Clinton or Sanders.

Sanders’ appeal to the electorate remains wedded to the problems of income inequality and what he labels a “rigged” economy. Clinton paints her rival as a single-issue politician who lacks international experience or the wherewithal to expand government or campaign finance reforms while Republicans control Congress. Clinton has calibrated her policy-focused appeals to include moderate Republicans and independents, many of whom are unhappy about Trump’s personality-driven White House bid.

Some of these voters would prefer the Republican Party to move away from issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and instead focus on job creation, CEO and corporate behavior, clean energy and long-term investments in infrastructure, according to a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey of likely Republican voters released Monday by Democracy Corps, a progressive research firm headed by longtime Clinton allies.

GOP moderates, measured in the survey as 31 percent of the party, are better educated than Republican base voters, have views distinct from the rest of GOP electorate and are receptive to some of the Democrats’ aspirational messaging about infrastructure, corporate governance and the need to fix America’s “real” problems beyond social issues, according to the survey results. These voters are at the heart of the dramatic fractures observed within the GOP, the authors found.

As the study results were released, Clinton appeared to reiterate some of the findings during the day: “We need to make it a national mission to create millions of jobs in clean energy, manufacturing, and infrastructure,” her campaign tweeted Monday.

“To those running our country's corporations: If you cheat employees, exploit consumers, or rip off taxpayers, we’re going to make you pay,” another Clinton campaign tweet said.

At the outset of the Democratic contest last year, Americans told pollsters they viewed Clinton as the party’s likely nominee. Over the summer, Sanders went from curiosity to contender, and Clinton struggled under a barrage of negative headlines about her email server and her trustworthiness. Sanders opened the year by chasing the front-runner to a near draw in Iowa, and trouncing her in New Hampshire. As the contests moved to larger and more diverse states, however, Sanders found voter coalition-building more challenging, even as his online fundraising kept him at near parity with Clinton’s war chest.

In recent weeks, the former secretary of state raked in newspaper and union endorsements, agreed with Sanders to participate in more televised debates, picked up the pace of her campaign appearances, media interviews, and campaign advertising, pledged fidelity to the Obama agenda, and promised younger voters inspired by Sanders that she would fight for them.

The Vermont senator has rejected suggestions that he’s in the Democratic race as a message candidate, arguing he will vie for the nomination to the end.

“We have developed enormous momentum all over this country,” he argued over the weekend, pointing to robust attendance at recent rallies and his generous grassroots donor base.

The distinctions between momentum and margins of victory may look a lot clearer on Wednesday.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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