Just when it looked as if Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign might start coming unglued, her adopted state of New York gave her a decisive victory Tuesday night that moved her much closer in the delegate count she needs to sew up the Democratic nomination.
After fending off weeks of verbal attacks from Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders for her coziness with Wall Street and questionable judgment on Iraq and other foreign policy and trade issues, Clinton last night savored an impressive 16-point win that stemmed her slide and broke Sanders’s recent string of victories.
Sanders had hoped to humiliate Clinton, a former two-term New York senator, with an aggressive performance at last week’s Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn -- where he repeatedly questioned her qualifications to be commander in chief -- and a series of rallies in New York that drew tens of thousands of supporters, many of them students and young voters new to the political process.
But it was Clinton who pulled off a big surprise, outperforming polls showing the race narrowing, and dominating the contest throughout New York State. She garnered overwhelming support from her now-reliable base of blacks, Hispanics, women and older Democrats. Network exit polls showed that she won the African-American vote by 3 to 1, Hispanics by nearly 2 to 1, women by a 20-point margin and voters 45 and older by more than six in 10.
Clinton was clearly helped by a New York Democratic rule that kept independent voters out of the primary, denying Sanders an important source of support that helped him pull out important upsets in Michigan, Wisconsin and a batch of western states. But Sanders has done little in recent months to expand his base beyond liberal white voters and younger people, while Clinton continues to show far more firepower in large, racially diverse states throughout the South, Midwest and Northeast.
While Clinton continues to be dogged by voter concerns about her honesty and integrity, New Yorkers concluded that their former senator has far more experience than Sanders and would be more electable in a general election showdown this fall with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump or Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
During a jubilant speech before a packed crowd at a midtown Manhattan hotel last night, Clinton declared that her nearly yearlong quest for the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign is in “the home stretch” and that “victory is in sight.”
In a lengthy victory speech that showed off a far more relaxed, playful and exuberant political warrior, Clinton extended an olive branch to Sanders supporters, saying, “I believe there’s much more that unites us than divides us.”
But her tone turned serious on the topic of Trump and Cruz. She predicted that her likely battle this fall with either the billionaire Trump or the arch-conservative Cruz would prove to be one of the most “consequential elections” of our time.
“Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are pushing a vision for America that is frankly dangerous,” she said. “Returning to trickle-down economics, opposing any increase in the minimum wage, restricting a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, promising to round up millions of immigrants, to ban all Muslims from entering the country, planning to treat American Muslims like criminals.”
“These things go against everything America stands for,” she declared, less than an hour after Trump delivered his own victory speech across town.
After a recent series of setbacks or middling wins, Clinton finally enjoyed the major blowout she was hoping for last night, when she captured 57.9 percent of the Democratic vote to 42.1 percent for Sanders, the Vermont senator. Clinton picked up 139 of the 247 delegates that were up for grabs yesterday, to just 106 for Sanders.
That net pickup of 33 delegates increased her overall delegate lead to 1,930, to 1,189 for Sanders, according to a New York Times tally. Clinton now holds roughly 80 percent of the 2,383 pledged and “super” delegates she needs for her party’s nomination this summer.
While not quite a sure thing yet, Clinton’s path to the nomination appears fairly clear. Next Tuesday, Clinton and Sanders renew their battle in five Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that are relatively friendly terrain for Clinton and offer her another important opportunity to pad her delegate lead. She holds substantial leads over Sanders in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island, according to polls and analysis. And if she repeats her strong New York showing in most of those states, she stands to pick up the lion’s share of 384 delegates on the line.
But all is not rosy for Clinton, and she remains a highly flawed candidate despite her strong showing last night.
While she appears on track to grind out a victory over Sanders before the California primary in early June, Clinton’s campaign has been severely damaged by attacks from both Sanders and Trump about her honesty and judgment to lead the country. With an ongoing FBI investigation of her mishandling of government email, Trump has begun referring to her as “Crooked Hillary.”
She has regularly scored poorly in polling gauging the public’s attitude about her honesty and integrity, especially in light of Sander’s repeated complaint that she has accepted millions of dollars in speaking fees and contributions from Wall Street and other special interest groups, and therefore can’t be counted on to look out for the public’s interest.
Her negative ratings eclipse her positive ratings by 24 percentage points, according to a recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, while other surveys indicate that Sanders would be a more effective candidate than Clinton would be in a general election campaign against Trump or Cruz. Among virtually every key demographic – including both men and women – Clinton suffers from high negatives among Democratic and Republican voters nationwide. Fifty-six percent of Americans have negative views of her and only 32 percent have positive things to say.
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who helped conduct the Wall Street Journal-NBC news poll, told The Washington Post that as bad as her negative ratings are, they’re a lot better than Trump’s at 65 percent.
“By any conventional standard, this is a candidate who’s been disqualified to be president” by the voters, McInturff said of Clinton. “Her terrible numbers for months have been masked because we have the one candidate in modern history who has worse numbers. The spectacle of Donald Trump has gotten so much attention that she’s slipped under the radar.”