Clinton Upends Sanders' Momentum

Clinton Upends Sanders' Momentum
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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Hillary Clinton essentially locked up the Democratic nomination Tuesday night after five key Democratic primaries handed her significant victories.

“Our next president has to be ready to face three big tests,” Clinton said during a rousing speech delivered in Florida, where she trounced Bernie Sanders. Put people first, she argued, offering a faint echo of her husband’s 1992 presidential campaign. Keep Americans safe, she added. And bring the country together.

The former secretary of state commended the Vermont senator and embraced policy themes he espouses, and then trained her attention on Donald Trump and the general election ahead.

The real estate mogul won decisively in most of Tuesday’s GOP contests, but lost winner-take-all Ohio to Gov. John Kasich. He edged Ted Cruz by just 1,726 votes in Missouri; with a recount possible, the race was officially too close to call.

A future president, Clinton told a crowd of placard-waving, cheering supporters in West Palm Beach, has to “defend our country, not embarrass it; engage our allies, not alienate them; defeat our adversaries, not embolden them.”

The former New York senator, who has known Trump for years, said the Republican front-runner espouses policies that offend, discriminate and isolate the country from the international community.

“That doesn’t make him strong. That makes him wrong,” she said to roars from the audiences.

Clinton’s victories Tuesday appeared regionally consequential, even if Democrats have assumed they cannot win against a GOP nominee in the South in November. From Florida to North Carolina, and from the South to the Midwest, Clinton can claim to have assembled coalitions of backers. She defeated Sanders in swing-state Ohio, marrowly beat him in her home state of Illinois, and holds razor-thin 1,531-vote edge in Missouri with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

The Democratic contests placed 691 delegates in play Tuesday, and under the proportional rules, each candidate will pocket more delegates. But Clinton has amassed a lead of about 300 in pledged delegates, and Sanders is unlikely to close that gap without winning every remaining contest by majorities far larger than anything he’s captured to date. Nonetheless, the New England independent enjoys continued fundraising success and support, particularly among liberals and younger voters.

In a statement, Sanders congratulated his opponent, but added, “With more than half the delegates yet to be chosen and a calendar that favors us in the weeks and months to come, we remain confident that our campaign is on a path to win the nomination.”

The senator, who surprised nearly everyone by winning the Michigan primary last week, hoped his anti-free-trade policies and criticisms of Clinton’s ties to Wall Street would bolster the durability of his White House bid beyond caucus states and his blowout in New Hampshire Feb. 9. Although the senator has vowed to stay in the race through the convention in Philadelphia, the results Tuesday may have transformed him into a message candidate.

The former first lady suggested she thinks Sanders will not exit the race.

“We’re getting even closer to securing this nomination and winning this election,” Clinton told supporters in an email as polls closed. “But we can’t get complacent. This race is going to go on for a while,” she predicted.

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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