Blow for Hillary Clinton as Bernie Sanders wins Alaska, Washington
Victories mean senator likely to remain in race until Democratic convention
Democratic US presidential contender Bernie Sanders easily won nominating contests in Alaska and Washington on Saturday, chipping away at front-runner Hillary Clinton’s commanding lead in the race to pick the party’s candidate for the White House.
Mr Sanders was aiming for a sweep of three Western states – Hawaii also was holding a contest – that would generate more momentum in his bid to overtake Clinton and help stave off calls from Democratic leaders that he should wrap up his bid in the name of party unity.
“We are making significant inroads in Secretary Clinton’s lead and . . . we have a path to victory,” Mr Sanders told cheering, chanting supporters in Madison, Wisconsin. “It is hard for anybody to deny that our campaign has the momentum.”
Ms Clinton, the former secretary of state, has increasingly turned her attention toward a potential November 8th general election showdown against Republican front-runner Donald Trump, claiming she is on the path to wrapping up the nomination.
Heading into Saturday’s voting, she led Mr Sanders by about 300 pledged delegates in the race for the 2,382 delegates needed to be nominated at the July convention. Adding in the support of superdelegates – party leaders who are free to back any candidate – she has 1,690 delegates to 946 for Sanders.
Mr Sanders, a US senator from Vermont, needs to win up to two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch Ms Clinton, who will keep piling up delegates even when she loses under a Democratic Party system that awards them proportionally in all states.
“These wins will help him raise more funds for the next few weeks but I don’t think it changes the overall equation,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a Clinton supporter. “Hillary Clinton has too big a lead. It’s all over but the shouting.”
But Mr Sanders has repeatedly said he is staying in the race until the convention, pointing to big crowds at his rallies and high voter turnout among young and first-time voters as proof of his viability. After raising $140 million, he has the money to fight on as long as he wants.
Mr Sanders has energized the party’s liberal base and young voters with his calls to rein in Wall Street and fight income inequality, a message that played well in liberal Washington and the other Western states. Mr Sanders won in Utah and Idaho earlier this week.
All three contests on Saturday were caucuses, a format that has favored Mr Sanders because it requires more commitment from voters, and were in states with fewer of the black and Hispanic voters who have helped fuel Ms Clinton’s lead.
“He was just more aligned with my values. I am young and I never knew there could be someone like him in politics,” said Samantha Burton of Seattle, who said Mr Sanders was the first candidate who had inspired her to make a donation.
Jocelyn Alt, a birthing assistant at a Seattle hospital, said she backed Ms Clinton because she believed the times called for someone who could get things done.
“She knows how to make things happen,” she said. “I think Hillary is more likely to win against a Republican.”
The Democratic race now moves to contests in Wisconsin on April 5th and in New York on April 19th. There were no contests on Saturday in the Republican race featuring Mr Trump and rivals US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
On Saturday, the New York Times published a lengthy foreign policy-focused interview with Trump. The New York billionaire told the newspaper he might stop oil purchases from Saudi Arabia unless they provide troops to fight the Islamic State.
Mr Trump also said he was willing to rethink traditional US alliances should he become president.