Democratic 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.
Sanders still faces a steep uphill climb to overtake Clinton but the big victories in the West generated more momentum for his upstart campaign and could stave off calls from Democratic leaders that he should wrap up his bid in the name of party unity.
Sanders appeared headed to victory margins of more than 50 per centage points in both Alaska and Washington. He aimed for a third victory later on Saturday in Hawaii.
“We are making significant inroads in Secretary Clinton’s lead and … we have a path to victory,” Sanders told cheering, chanting supporters in Madison, Wisconsin. “It is hard for anybody to deny that our campaign has the momentum.”
Clinton, the former secretary of state, has increasingly turned her attention toward a potential Nov 8 general election showdown against Republican front-runner Donald Trump, claiming she is on the path to wrapping up the nomination.
Heading into Saturday, she led Sanders by about 300 pledged delegates in the race for the 2,382 delegates needed to be nominated at the party’s July convention in Philadelphia.
Adding in the support of superdelegates ─ party leaders who are free to back any candidate ─ she has 1,690 delegates to 946 for Sanders.
Sanders, a United States (US) senator from Vermont, needs to win up to two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch 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.”
But Sanders has repeatedly said he is staying in the race until the convention, pointing to big crowds at his rallies and high 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.