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Sanders gasping against Clinton as race heads West

A week after scoring a five-state rout against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton has another chance Tuesday evening to widen her already daunting lead over the Vermont senator in the chase for the Democratic nomination.

As the contest shifts to the interior West, Arizona looms as the most critical primary of the night. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has been rumored to be a possible running mate for Clinton, campaigned on her behalf in the state, and former President Bill Clinton stumped in Phoenix over the weekend. Clinton’s team has long downplayed expectations in the other two states voting on Tuesday, Utah and Idaho — both caucus states that favor Sanders.

Sanders is looking to recapture the burst of momentum he enjoyed after his surprise win in Michigan on March 8. But he entered the day trailing Clinton by more than 20 points in the latest public polling in Arizona, the night’s biggest prize with its 85 proportionally allocated delegates.

Sanders campaigned at the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday, appearing with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Clinton has the support of Arizona Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Ruben Gallego.

The Vermont senator’s campaign has also touted his strong performance in the primary of American Democrats living abroad in which he prevailed 69 percent to 31 percent.

“This political revolution that is gaining momentum across America is now resonating all over the world,” Sanders said in a statement released by the campaign. “There is a clear path to victory as we begin the second half of the delegate selection process. We are waging a strong campaign and plan to take it all the way to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Philadelphia.”

Unlike the other four candidates left running in either major party, Sanders opted to campaign in Idaho, Utah and Arizona on Monday rather than address the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C.. He delivered a foreign policy speech in Salt Lake City in which he called for a restart of the Middle East peace process.

Even as Clinton entered the evening with a 760-delegate lead, Sanders’ campaign has continued to make the case that the senator is more likely to prevail in the general election against Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The Sanders campaign blasted out results from two national polls released Monday evening showing Sanders with a larger lead over Trump and Cruz than Clinton in a series of hypothetical matchups. “Objectively speaking, there is no question that you are looking at the strongest Democratic candidate,” Sanders told supporters in Arizona on Monday night.

In Idaho, which voted for Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008, polling has been scarce. In one February survey, Sanders led 47 percent to 45 percent over Clinton, within the margin of error. Clinton has not visited the state ahead of the caucuses, while Sanders drew thousands in Idaho Falls last week, according to the campaign. The state’s 27 proportionally allocated delegates are the smallest tranche up for grabs on Tuesday.

Clinton also trails Sanders in the latest public polling in Utah, where Sanders drew 14,000 people at Brigham Young State Park on Friday.

On the eve of the election, Clinton’s campaign found itself cleaning up the former president’s remark in Washington state that voters should support his wife “if you believe we’ve finally come to the point where we can put the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that.”

Following Tuesday’s contests, the Democratic race moves to the Saturday caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state, where Sanders is likely to do well. But the Clinton campaign has expected that.

“Our campaign will continue to compete in every state and will work to amass as many pledged delegates as possible everywhere,” campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in a memo after Clinton’s March 15 sweep. “In fact, we already have staff on the ground in every state that votes through the end of April. But our pledged delegate lead is so significant that even a string of victories by Sen. Sanders over the next few weeks would have little impact on Sec. Clinton’s position in the race.”

Clinton’s allies in Congress are calling on Sanders to wind down his campaign or, short of that, stop attacking the former secretary of state directly. A prolonged primary battle, they say, will only aid Donald Trump in a potential general election matchup.

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