Hillary Clinton won a lot of states and a lot of delegates on Super Tuesday, further securing her status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton stacked up big wins in Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas, and she squeaked out a victory in Massachusetts.
It was a very good night for the former secretary of state. But Clinton was not going for a very good night. She was going for a sweep that would marginalize the insurgent candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The Clinton campaign made an aggressive final push to win the states where Sanders was competitive, and even tried to close the gap in Vermont.
That did not happen. Despite the fact that prominent Vermont Democrats such as current Governor Peter Shumlin and former Governor Madeleine Kunin were actively campaigning for Clinton, Sanders won 86 percent of the vote to just 14 percent for the former senator from the neighboring state of New York. That was the biggest win of the night.
If Sanders had just won Vermont, however, it would not have been enough. The senator needed to show strength outside New England, where had previously won New Hampshire. And so he did. Sanders won the primary in Oklahoma—a state where his rallies in Tulsa and Oklahoma City drew huge crowds, and where he even visited the Woody Guthrie Center—by a 10-point margin. He won big in Colorado, a key swing state where he beat Clinton by an overwhelming 59–40 margin. He won 62–38 in Minnesota, a state where Clinton has the enthusiastic backing of Senator Al Franken, and her surrogates campaigned aggressively right up through Super Tuesday. And in Massachusetts, where Clinton had the support of top officials such as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as The Boston Globe, he held the front-runner to just 50.3 percent of the vote.
Sanders won as many states from Clinton in the Democratic contests on Super Tuesday as the combined efforts of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio won from Donald Trump in the far more intensely covered Republican contests.
That, to borrow a phrase from Sanders, was “pretty good”—especially considering the fact that the Super Tuesday map was always seen as favoring Clinton. The results allowed the senator to tell his supporters in his Vermont victory speech: “At the end of tonight, 15 states will have voted, 35 states remain. And let me assure you that we are going to take our fight for economic justice, for social justice, for environmental sanity, for a world of peace to every one of those states.”
None of this diminishes Clinton’s success. She comes out of Super Tuesday in a dominant position: the winner of the most states, the winner of the most delegates. She continues to attract overwhelming support from African-American voters, which contributed to her dramatic 4–1 victory in Alabama, as well as her solid wins in Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas. She went into Super Tuesday with a wide lead in the delegate count (thanks to her overwhelming advantage among superdelegates), and the results of the day’s voting have given her a wider lead. By the CBS estimate, she’s now ahead by 600 delegates.
Clinton is running well for a reason. She is rising to the demands of the Democratic contest–and to the broader demands of a 2016 race that is increasingly defined by concerns about the rise of Trump and Trumpism. Clinton closed her Super Tuesday campaign talking less about Sanders than about Trump—appealing well and wisely to Democrats who are beginning to think more and more seriously about November matchups.
Democrats get Clinton’s point when she pushes back against Trump’s “Make American Great Again” slogan by declaring, “We know we’ve got work to do. But that work, that work is not to make America great again. America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole. We have to fill in, fill in what’s been hollowed out.”
Clinton has grown steadily more focused and effective in her messaging. She is delivering the best speeches of her campaign (picking up on many of the economic themes emphasized by Sanders, and adding her own calls for healing a divided nation). And she is displaying energy and drive—traveling on Super Tuesday from Massachusetts to Minnesota to Florida (where Democrats will cast primary ballots March 15).
Had her fierce final campaigning given Clinton the sweep she sought, Super Tuesday could have been every bit as definitional as many pundits imagined it would be for her. But Sanders held his own.
“The political establishment counted Bernie out before this contest even began. But tonight proves the race is on, and it will be a fight for delegates across all fifty states,” says Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, which backs the Vermont senator. “Tonight, Senator Sanders will pick up hundreds of delegates on a night that sees many of Secretary Clinton’s best states casting their votes. Meanwhile, Senator Sanders is coming off a historic fundraising month and picking up new endorsements, and in the weeks to come, the map improves for Sanders quickly.”
All of that is true. Sanders raised $42 million in February from small donors who can—and very probably will—keep giving for as long as the senator keeps running. The Tuesdays to come could be more super for Sanders, as the race heads toward industrial states (Michigan and Ohio) where his appeal to blue-collar workers who oppose free-trade deals could gain traction, and toward states such as Wisconsin where polls actually give the Vermonter a narrow lead. And if the tens of thousands of young people who continue to show up for his rallies are any indication, his supporters are more than ready to fight on.
But Sanders will need more than “pretty good” nights.
The senator can still make a case that he has a path to the nomination, but it is an uphill path.
If he hopes to level things out, Sanders must broaden his appeal to African-American and Latino voters, who will be a factor in many of the states where he must win in the weeks to come. He must also recognize that Clinton’s pivot to a focus on fighting Trump is an example of not just smart, but necessary, politics. Democratic primary and caucus voters want to hear about issues—especially the economic and social justice issues that have animated the Sanders campaign—but they also want to be reassured that their party’s nominee will have a message and a strategy that is sufficient to see off Donald Trump. Right now, Clinton is doing a very good job of providing that assurance—and it is helping her to have some very super Tuesdays.