White House dreams fading, Bernie Sanders added another state to his tally against Hillary Clinton with a win in West Virginia on Tuesday — a victory that will do little to slow the former secretary of state’s steady march toward the Democratic presidential nomination.
The result in the West Virginia Democratic primary underscored the awkward position Clinton and the party’s establishment face as they attempt to turn their focus to the general election. Sanders has won 19 states to Clinton’s 23, but she is 94 percent of the way to winning the nomination — just 144 delegates short of the 2,383 required. That means she could even lose all the remaining primaries by a landslide and still emerge as the nominee, so long as all her supporters among the party insiders (known as superdelegates) continue to back her.
Clinton only needs to win 14 percent of the delegates and uncommitted superdelegates at stake in the remaining contests, and she remains on track to capture the nomination in early June.
Still, Sanders is vowing to fight on. He campaigned in Oregon and California on Tuesday and his victory in West Virginia highlighted anew Clinton’s struggles to win over white men and independents — weaknesses Trump wants to exploit in the fall campaign.
“Let me be as clear as I can be, we are in the campaign to win the Democratic nomination,” Sanders said at a campaign event in Salem, Oregon. “We are going to fight for every last vote.”
Among those voting in the West Virginia Democratic primary, about a third said they would support Trump over either Clinton or Sanders in November. An additional 2 in 10 said they wouldn’t vote for either candidate. But, according to the exit polls, 4 in 10 also said they consider themselves to be independents or Republicans, and not Democrats.
While Sanders is still attracting thousands to rallies, his campaign has grown harder as Clinton closes in on the nomination. His fundraising has fallen off and in turn, his advertising, with only about $525,000 in ads planned for California and $63,000 each in West Virginia and Oregon, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.
That’s a significant decline from the wall-to-wall advertising campaign he ran earlier in the primary, during which his $74 million in ads outspent Clinton by $14 million.
Even as the primaries continue, Clinton has largely shifted her focus to the general election. But she’s also trying to stop Sanders from gaining the psychological advantage of a series of wins this month. Her team went on a $160,000 ad buy in Kentucky on Tuesday, a modest effort aimed at cutting into Sanders’ support before the state’s primary in a week.
Clinton won the primary election Tuesday in Nebraska, although the party already allocated all of its delegates at a caucus won in March by Sanders.
Meanwhile, Republican Donald Trump took both Nebraska and West Virginia, a week after he cleared the field of his remaining rivals. They were not victories likely to heal the party’s wounds, as some GOP leaders continue to hold off offering their endorsement of the party’s presumptive nominee.