By Annie Karnie
March 16, 2016
The 2016 Democratic primary effectively ended Tuesday night, with Hillary Clinton as the all-but-certain winner but Bernie Sanders barely acknowledging it.
For Clinton, a narrow win in Illinois and double-digit victories across the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio provided deliverance from a humbling loss in Michigan a week earlier and finally gave her the space to begin her pivot to Donald Trump and the general election. That left the Vermont senator to deliver his standard 60-minute stemwinder in Phoenix without mentioning a single defeat.
After noting that she now has a 300-delegate lead – which will make it essentially impossible for Sanders to catch up given the rules of the Democratic process -- Clinton turned her attention to the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
“Our commander-in-chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it,” she told her energetic supporters.
“When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States,” Clinton said, discussing Trump’s most outrageous policies, “when he embraces torture, that doesn’t make him strong, it makes him wrong.”
With Trump sweeping Florida and knocking Marco Rubio out of the race, Clinton also highlighted the heightened stakes for Democrats, noting that “tonight, it’s clearer than ever that this may be one of the most consequential campaigns of our lifetimes.”
That doesn’t mean Sanders -- fueled by a money machine that never stalls -- will fade into the ether any time soon. The calendar now turns to a string of overwhelmingly white, caucus states like Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Alaska, where he is favored to collect the small piles of delegates available -- 244 delegates in total, counting Hawaii on March 26.
“It’s amazing, he’s a cash machine,” marveled a Clinton insider. “If he loses, he says, ‘big bad Hillary is winning.’ Boom, $5 million. If he wins, it’s like, ‘keep the revolution going!’ Boom, $5 million. We got 1.5 million more votes. But either way, he gets $5 million.”
Clinton on Tuesday night crushed Sanders in Florida -- where there are more eligible voters in South Florida than in all four early nominating states combined -- with a 31-point victory. And she won North Carolina by a hefty 16-point margin, despite a $1 million Sanders ad blitz over the past week that tripled her spending there.
Clinton allies were quick to declare the race over.
"Hillary Clinton's wins tonight effectively ended the Democratic nomination for president,” said Brad Woodhouse, the president of Correct the Record. “It is all but mathematically impossible for Bernie Sanders to overtake her lead. Her message is resonating and hers is the real revolution--a revolution that will break down barriers and that will get things done for the American people."
But if Florida was a bonanza that widened the delegate gap between them, Ohio was the wild card win that allowed Clinton to shift her gaze forward -- her 13-point victory represented a staggering blow to Sanders, who was not able to translate his economic message and opposition to foreign trade deals into success in Ohio and Illinois. In the other industrial Midwestern states to vote Tuesday, Clinton held a slight lead in Missouri with 99 percent of the vote in.
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