LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – White House dreams fading, Bernie Sanders added another state to his tally against Hillary Clinton with a win in West Virginia on Tuesday – a victory that will do little to slow the former secretary of state’s steady march toward the Democratic presidential nomination.
Meanwhile, Republican Donald Trump also won there and in Nebraska, a week after he cleared the field of his remaining rivals. They were not victories likely to heal the party’s wounds, as some GOP leaders continue to hold off offering their endorsement of the party’s presumptive nominee.
The result in the West Virginia Democratic primary underscored the awkward position Clinton and the party’s establishment face as they attempt to turn their focus to the general election. Clinton is just 155 delegates short of the 2,383 she needs to secure the nomination. To win them, she needs just 17 percent of the delegates at stake in the remaining contests.
That means she could lose all the states left to vote by a landslide and still emerge as the nominee, so long as all of her supporters among the party insiders known as superdelegates continue to back her.
Still, Sanders is vowing to fight on. He campaigned in California on Tuesday for the state’s June 7 primary, and his victory in West Virginia highlighted anew Clinton’s struggles to win over white men and independents – weaknesses Trump wants to exploit in the fall campaign.
Among those voting in the state’s Democratic primary, about a third said they would support Trump over either Clinton orSanders in November. An additional 2 in 10 said they wouldn’t vote for either candidate. But 4 in 10 also said they consider themselves to be independents or Republicans, and not Democrats, according to exit polls.
While Sanders is still attracting thousands to rallies, his campaign has grown harder as Clinton closes in on the nomination. His fundraising has fallen off and so, too, has his advertising, with only about $525,000 in ads planned for California and $63,000 each in West Virginia and Oregon, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.
That’s a significant decline from the wall-to-wall advertising campaign he ran earlier in the primary, during which his $74 million in ads outspent Clinton by $14 million.
Edward Milam, of Cross Lanes, West Virginia, is a self-described socialist who gave money to the Sanders campaign but his vote Tuesday to Clinton.
“After about six-seven months of debating and watching, I think Hillary has a lot more to offer than Bernie internationally,” the 68-year-old retiree said. “I think she handles herself well. I’ve known about her for 30 years, just like everybody else has. I don’t think there will be any surprises.”
Even as the primaries continue, Clinton has largely shifted her focus to the general election. On Monday, she courted suburban women in Virginia and on Tuesday, in Lexington, Kentucky, she released a proposal to ensure families don’t spend more than 10 percent of their income on child care.
“I don’t care about what he says about me,” she said of Trump in Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday night. “But I do resent what he says about other people, other successful women, women who have worked hard, women who have done their part.”
Clinton’s campaign hopes suburban women, turned off by Trump’s bombastic rhetoric, could be a key source of support for her in the fall.
But she’s also trying to stop Sanders from gaining the psychological advantage of a series of wins this month. Her team went up with a $160,000 ad buy in Kentucky on Tuesday, a modest effort aimed at cutting into Sanders’ support before the state’s primary in a week.
Democrats also held a primary election Tuesday in Nebraska, although the party allocated all its delegates to the summer nominating convention in an earlier caucus won by Sanders.
WASHINGTON (AP) – Key Senate Republicans voiced optimism Tuesday about Donald Trump’s presidential prospects in November, the clearest signal yet to the GOP rank and file to unite behind the bombastic billionaire and turn their energy against Democrat Hillary Clinton. But it was uncertain whether the doubters could be quieted.
Trump added two more primaries to his column, taking West Virginia and Nebraska. Clinton lost West Virginia to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who refuses to bow out as Trump’s GOP foes have, but that hardly dented her huge Democratic delegate lead.
The presidential race was on lawmakers minds on Capitol Hill, too.
“We have a nominee, it looks like he may well be very competitive, and we want to win the White House,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. He also said, “We know that Hillary Clinton will be four more years of Barack Obama. I think that’s going to in the end be enough to unify Republicans across the country.”
Still, doubt and angst over Trump remained palpable as GOP lawmakers returned from a weeklong recess that saw him effectively clinch the presidential nomination. For some, the question of whether they were backing their party’s standard-bearer – a no-brainer in a normal election year – proved too much to answer.
“We’re not doing any Trump questions today,” an aide to Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois told a crowd of reporters as Kirk, one of the most endangered Senate Republicans, sped into a meeting.
Another Republican who’s up for re-election, Tim Scott of South Carolina, offered his support, but like others managed to sound grudging and backhanded in the process. “I’m supporting the Republican candidate, and it happens to be DonaldTrump,” he said.
A third, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, deflected questions about whether he would back Trump, saying he’s focused only on securing another six-year Senate term.
“The only thing I can do is get re-elected so we have a Republican majority in the Senate,” Isakson said. “I will support the Republican ticket and I’m endorsing me for my Senate seat.”
The comments reflected ongoing divisions in a party still reeling over Trump’s success in locking up the nomination and pushing his two remaining rivals from the race last week. McConnell and others have decided that the best approach is to get behind Trump. But especially in light of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s surprise decision to withhold his support, unity is elusive for now.
That could start to change Thursday, when Ryan, McConnell and other congressional Republicans meet with Trump, who himself has downplayed the meeting and suggested he can win the election unity or no.
Ryan defended his stance anew Tuesday, insisting that he was just being honest in saying Trump had more work to do to show he could unify the party after alienating numerous voters including women, Hispanics and many conservatives.
“It is going to take more than a week to unify this party,” Ryan said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal broadcast online. “If we just pretend to unify without unifying, then we’ll only be at half-strength, and it won’t be good for us in the fall.”
But some Republicans argued that Ryan himself was making it harder to unify by essentially giving other Republicans cover to refuse to get behind Trump.
“I didn’t really appreciate his comments,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. “They have to establish a workable relationship, and I think they will, but that’s not a good way to start.”
Yet after a bruising primary season others were not yet ready to move on. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump’s leading opponent before he dropped out last week, made clear he was in no hurry to endorse the mogul and reality TV star who defeated him.
“The voters in the primary seem to have made a choice and we’ll see what happens as the months go forward,” Cruz told conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck.
Cruz went so far as to leave open the possibility of restarting his campaign if he should score a surprise win in Nebraska, while making clear he didn’t anticipate that outcome.
“The reason we suspended the race last week is with Indiana’s loss I didn’t see a viable path to victory. If that changes we will certainly respond accordingly,” Cruz said.
Another of Trump’s vanquished opponents, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said at the Hudson Institute: “He’s the nominee of the Republican Party, or presumptive nominee via the voters. I respect that and accept it, but that’s not going to change the reservations I have about his campaign or about some of the policies he’s established.”
Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who heads Senate GOP re-election efforts, said “actually I feel pretty good” about prospects to hang onto control of the Senate.
“It seems to me after every presidential primary there’s a coming together, and I expect that will happen,” Wicker said.