Sanders Hails 'Momentum' in Wisconsin Win, but Looks to N.Y. to Turn Odds Against Clinton

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Sanders speaks at the Wisconsin Founders Day Gala in Milwaukee, April 2, 2016.
Sanders speaks at the Wisconsin Founders Day Gala in Milwaukee, April 2, 2016. Credit: Reuters

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Bernie Sanders handily beat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin’s Democratic primary Tuesday, but confronted a reality now painfully familiar to the Vermont senator: to both candidates go the delegate spoils.

The Democratic socialist defeated the front-runner, 56.5 percent-43.1 percent, with the state's 86 delegates divided proportionally: 45 for Sanders and 31 for Clinton.

So anxious was each candidate to steam ahead to the next contests that neither remained in Wisconsin as the votes were counted. Sanders, anticipating he would continue to trail Clinton in pledged delegates after Tuesday’s results, campaigned in Wyoming ahead of a caucus on Saturday. Clinton raised money for her campaign from 60 supporters in the Bronx and did not speak publicly following her loss.

Each candidate expects pressure will mount to unite behind a presumed nominee well ahead of the summer’s convention, but Clinton and Sanders both have sharpened their attacks and will continue to be aggressive.

“With our victory tonight in Wisconsin, we have won seven out of the last eight caucuses and primaries, and we have won almost all of them with overwhelming, landslide numbers,” Sanders said during a victory speech so familiar to his Wyoming supporters that they shouted out lines along with the candidate.

The senator celebrated the momentum of his consecutive wins, six million individual donations to his campaign, and enthusiastic voter turnout across the country. He never mentioned Clinton, telling his Laramie audience that he has an excellent chance to win “a lot of delegates” in New York on April 19, and will compete through May and June. “We have a path toward victory, a path to the White House.”

In an email to admirers, Sanders described what remained of April as “the most important three-week stretch of the campaign.”

“We’re going to win this election,” he vowed, “if we can keep our momentum going.”

Sanders said he wants his Wisconsin victory to propel his campaign toward success in Wyoming (14 delegates), and the Empire State, where 247 delegates are the prizes. 

Sanders’ trajectory after Tuesday, however, could ebb as proportional delegate allocations continue to pile up in Clinton’s column. 

Sanders has edged Clinton in about 45 percent of the states where they have faced off, but he has not materially altered the delegate math that separates them.

A two-week lull before the important New York contest is accessorized by an April 14 debate in Brooklyn, broadcast by CNN.

Clinton’s campaign team predicts that after April 26, when voters in Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., participate and 631 delegates are divvied up, the nominating drama may be mathematically finished for Sanders.

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, offered voters (and Clinton donors) a math lesson in memo form Monday.

“The Sanders campaign has struggled to explain their path to the nomination,” he wrote in a missive posted online to Medium.

“Their latest strategy involves a combination of trying to flip pledged delegates at state and county conventions, while also convincing super delegates that he deserves their support — despite the fact that Hillary Clinton has won 58 percent of the popular vote and a majority of pledged delegates thus far.”

The arm wrestling over delegates is part of what makes the New York contest an unexpectedly colorful Democratic competition. Clinton is determined to nail down a decisive victory in her adopted home state. Sanders reminded his audience Tuesday that he know “a little bit about” New York, because he was born and raised there. 

Clinton, who lives in Chappaqua, N.Y., has been campaigning in the state she represented as senator, touting efforts almost a decade ago to host college fairs for young people, lure manufacturing jobs back to the state, and help craftspeople and small businesses sell their made-in-New-York products, including with eBay’s corporate tutelage.

The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Sanders narrowing the gap with his rival, but Clinton leads by 11 points. New York’s contest is a closed primary, and Sanders’ grassroots team is reminding supporters they must be registered as Democrats to vote for him in his home state.

The Brooklyn-born Vermont lawmaker has outlined lofty ambitions in the Empire State.

“I think we have a chance, an excellent chance, to win in New York,” Sanders said Monday, citing a Bronx rally last week that attracted 18,000. “We're going to be doing the best throughout the city of New York, throughout upstate New York, and we're feeling pretty good,” he continued during an MSNBC interview. 

Even if he were to rack up additional victories in primaries after Wisconsin, Sanders’ road to the nomination remains steeply uphill. Clinton holds a significant lead in pledged delegates, and an even greater advantage among super delegates.

Still, as he lags in some polls and in the pledged-delegate count, Sanders has out-raised Clinton for three successive months, hauling in $44 million to her $29.5 million in March. His successes and prowess with small-dollar donors encourage Sanders to remain in the race through California’s contest June 7. Weeks ago, he explained that voters nationwide should be permitted to make a choice in the Democratic contest. “I am not a quitter,” he said.

The senator outpaced Clinton with campaign ads in Wisconsin. And with New York in mind, he released an ad (the second since February) featuring the daughter of Eric Garner, a Staten Island black man killed in police custody. Garner’s daughter backs Sanders, while Garner’s mother endorsed Clinton.   

Despite the Wisconsin victory, Sanders hit a rough patch in the last week after stumbling through several answers during an editorial board interview published Monday by the New York Daily News. He punted specifics about how a president would break up big banks, his position on guns and gun manufacturers, and Israel and settlements. 

Clinton is likely to revisit Sanders’ vague answers during the Democratic debate next week. CNN’s televised event April 14 was negotiated for weeks by the two campaigns. Sanders pressed to debate again, and Clinton agreed after some back and forth.

The senator and his team have sharpened their critiques of the former secretary of state’s policies. Sanders frustrates Clinton when he faults her for accepting campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry and personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, and for backing international trade pacts.

Clinton has tried to shift her attention to assailing Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz this spring, but she is concentrating foremost on locking up 2,383 delegates before July, preferably without alienating Sanders’ enthusiastic fans and without eroding her advantages as a general election competitor.

“The truth is that it is very, very, very unlikely that either Secretary Clinton or Sen. Sanders will go into the convention with a majority needed of pledged delegates in order to win," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told CNN on Monday. "I think it'll be an interesting Democratic convention.”

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