Bernie Sanders notched his eighth win in the last nine contests on Saturday in Wyoming, defeating Hillary Clinton 56 percent to 44 percent in their final showdown before New York’s pivotal primary later this month.
In Wyoming, where only 14 delegates were at stake in the Democratic caucuses, Clinton’s better-than-expected showing means Sanders will not make any dent in her lead of over 200 pledged delegates. But the Vermont senator’s win there will add fuel to his claim that he has the political momentum in the second half of the Democratic primary season.
After losing the state handily to Obama in 2008, Clinton managed to hold her own Saturday – she won the Wyoming’s two most populous counties, Natrona and Laramie. As a result, it’s unlikely Sanders will net more than a handful of delegates out of the result. Sanders has typically run stronger in Western caucuses, winning 70 percent of the vote or more in recent contests in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah and Washington state.
Nonetheless, Sanders is likely to lean heavily on his momentum argument coming out of Wyoming, as tensions have risen noticeably while both campaigns bear down on New York’s high-stakes contest — and its 247 delegates — on April 19. Far from resetting the race, the Wyoming results are at risk of getting lost in the rush of New York while both candidates campaign there on Saturday and Sunday.
Hours before the caucuses were scheduled to begin, the Sanders campaign released its own internal pledged delegate count and a list of superdelegate supporters, designed to advance the idea that the campaign is picking up steam.
“Sen. Sanders won these recent contests by large and impressive margins,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager in a statement. “As a result, we have cut Secretary Clinton’s delegate lead by 101 since March 15, which amounts to one-third of her then-total margin. That dramatic gain leaves us only 214 delegates behind — a margin we can and fully intend to surpass by the conclusion of voting on June 14.”
Sanders picked up the endorsement of another superdelegate Saturday, Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan.
The two Democratic presidential candidates have recently clashed after Sanders claimed Clinton was “unqualified” to be president, but the mood simmered a bit on Friday as Sanders recanted the assertion and Clinton said Sanders was qualified, as well. Both turned their scorn instead on Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
The underdog, who needs to start winning large states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland by roughly 60 percent to 40 percent if he wants to overtake Clinton by the time California votes in June, has been on a streak ever since Clinton built a 300-odd delegate lead with primary wins in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and North Carolina in mid-March. Sanders then won the Democrats Abroad primary and caucuses in Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington, while Clinton took Arizona.
Then, on Tuesday, Sanders beat Clinton in Wisconsin’s primary, celebrating his victory with a speech in Laramie, Wyoming.
The road ahead gets tough for Sanders, starting in his birth-state of New York, where Clinton, the state’s former senator, leads in recent polls. In order to remain competitive in the nomination fight, Sanders likely needs to come close to her there, but he has yet to demonstrate an ability to win states like New York that hold closed primaries where only Democrats can participate in the party’s primary.
His primary election wins thus far — in New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin — have each come in states with open or semi-open primaries that allow independents and, in some cases, any registered voter, to participate.
But few of the states left on the calendar hold such contests, raising the importance of his performance in New York, which is likely to set the tone for the rest of the month.
Clinton campaign officials say they expect Sanders to be effectively eliminated after the April 26 contests in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, while Sanders aides maintain he will be in the race at least until the July Democratic convention — and contend he will grab the delegate lead in California on June 7.
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