Hillary Clinton became the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president as she swept states across the South and Southwest including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia in a Super Tuesday show of force.
But she still will have to face Bernie Sanders.
The independent senator from Vermont plans to stay in the race despite huge losses, especially in Southern states with large minority populations, and a virtual inability to catch up to Clinton’s lead in delegates. He has the money and support to stay in the campaign, if only to keep hammering his message.
“I congratulate Sen. Sanders for his strong showing and campaigning,” Clinton told supporters in Florida, looking ahead to a coming primary state. “Now this campaign moves on to the Crescent City, the Motor City and beyond.”
Sanders signaled he’ll follow her every step, even if he cannot catch her.
“We have come a very long way in 10 months,” Sanders told supporters in Vermont. “At the end of tonight, 15 states will have voted, 35 states remain. And let me assure you that we are going to take our fight for economic justice, for social justice, for environmental sanity, for a world of peace, to every one of those states.”
It could be more than a nuisance. Clinton will be forced to spend money, time and energy that she would have liked to have stored away for a general election on a nomination contest that many had long assumed was hers for the taking.
She will have less time to sell herself to voters in a general election and the party will have less time to unify around her.
Bill Ballenger, former longtime editor of Inside Michigan Politics, whose state will vote next week, said Sanders wasn’t necessarily staying in the race to hurt Clinton.
“Sanders is a man of principle,” he said. “He believes in his message. He believes he’s the one person to deliver that message.”
The self-described democratic socialist has successfully drawn on anger building in the country by those fed up with the so-called billionaire class. His popularity, particularly with new and young voters, took even him by surprise.
“This campaign is not just about electing a president,” Sanders said. “It is about transforming America.”
He continues to receive millions of dollars in small, largely online, donations and to draw thousands of enthusiastic supporters to his rallies. He raised $43 million in February, at least $4 million of it Monday, according to his campaign.
Clinton has portrayed herself as a pragmatic leader who would build on President Barack Obama’s legacy and work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done in a town where little gets done.
She was the choice to follow in Obama’s footstep in several states by huge margins, according to preliminary exit polls.
In Alabama, for example, where 65 percent of Democratic voters wanted to continue Obama’s policies, she won them by 83-16 percent.
Sanders’ decision to stay in the race might continue to highlight Clinton’s vulnerabilities, particularly among young voters and those who think she is not honest.
In states Clinton won — including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Virginia, for example — Sanders won voters under 30 and sometimes voters under 44, according to preliminary exit polls.
Polls also continue to find that a majority of Americans don’t trust Clinton, in part because of her use of a personal email system while secretary of State and in part because of her decision to accept campaign contributions and speaking fees from Wall Street.
John Hudak, who studies campaigns at the Brooking Institution, a center-left policy research center, said Clinton should treat Sanders with respect in the hopes of slowly winning over his supporters and eventually getting a full-throated endorsement from him — even as she begins to turn her focus to challenging Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive nominee.
“She shouldn’t trash Sanders or try to delegitimize him,” he said. It’s not the first time a candidate has stayed in a race after it became obvious he would lose.
There was Republican Rick Santorum in 2012, Democrat Bill Bradley in 2000, Democrat Jerry Brown in 1992 and Democrat Jesse Jackson in 1988 and 1984.
Clinton herself remained in her first presidential race until June 2008, but the contest against Obama was much more even.
Sanders will receive some delegates even in states he lost, but it will now be all but impossible to catch Clinton. She retains a massive advantage among superdelegates, Democratic leaders who can back any candidate regardless of how their states vote.
Texas Democratic strategist Harold Cook argues that it’s not necessarily bad for Clinton if Sanders stay in the race, saying it allows her to hone her message and convince more voters of her candidacy. “It’s good for the Democrats and not bad for Clinton,” he said. “It gets her ready for November.”
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