WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS/AP) — Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in Florida and North Carolina on Tuesday and pushed for wins in three Midwest primaries, aiming to lay the groundwork for a potential fall showdown against Republican Donald Trump.
Clinton hoped to pad her decisive victories in Florida and North Carolina with a win in Ohio to show strength in some of the nation’s leading general election battlegrounds. The Democrats were also competing in Missouri and Illinois in primaries that could help Clinton add to her lead of more than 200 pledged delegates.
Florida was Tuesday’s biggest delegate prize, and Clinton’s victory put Sanders at risk of losing more ground among delegates even if he narrowly wins the Midwest states. Clinton was in a position to end the day with about two-thirds of the delegates needed to win the nomination.
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“The numbers are adding up in my favor,” Clinton told reporters in Raleigh, North Carolina, before flying to Florida on Tuesday. With 214 delegates at stake in Florida, Clinton was assured of winning at least 118 while Sanders will pick up at least 45.
Democratic voters in all five states viewed Clinton as the candidate with the better chance to beat Trump if he is the Republican nominee, according to early exit polls. The voters were more likely to describe Sanders as honest but more likely to describe Clinton’s policies as realistic.
“She has done it. She has been there. She is the person that should replace Barack Obama,” said Eduardo De Jesus, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who voted for Clinton.
Clinton urged Democrats in recent days to unite behind her candidacy so it could focus on Trump, the Republican front-runner. In telling campaign optics, Clinton staged Tuesday’s primary night rally in West Palm Beach, a few miles from Mar-a-Lago, where Trump was holding a news conference at his Palm Beach estate.
Sanders aimed for victory in Missouri and was within striking distance in Illinois and Ohio, two states where he hoped his trade-focused message would resonate. It helped him pull off an upset in Michigan last week, prompting him to continue to question Clinton’s past support for trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Secretary Clinton has supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements,” Sanders said Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina. “When decision time came, as to whether you were on the side of working people, or corporate America, she made the wrong decision.”
Entering Tuesday, Clinton had 768 pledged delegates compared to 554 for Sanders, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. Overall, Clinton holds 1,235 of total delegates, more than half the amount needed to clinch the nomination when the count includes superdelegates, who are elected officials and party leaders free to support the candidate of their choice. Sanders has 580 delegates when the count includes superdelegates.
Nearly 700 delegates were at stake in Tuesday’s primaries and the delegates will be awarded proportionally, making it difficult for Sanders to make a large dent in Clinton’s lead.
Sanders’ team says the calendar will be more favorable to the senator in the weeks ahead. After Tuesday’s contests, the campaign shifts westward, with contests in Arizona, Idaho and Utah on March 22 and Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state on March 26.
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