Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton appear to have split victories in the Oregon and Kentucky primaries Tuesday night.
With nearly all votes counted in Kentucky, Clinton was leading Sanders by a narrow margin of about 1,800 votes. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told CNN that Clinton was the “unofficial winner,” but the Associated Press said the race was too close to call.
Sanders got a more comfortable victory with a win in Oregon, where he was leading by about six points over Clinton with 60 percent of the vote in. De facto GOP nominee Donald Trump, the only remaining candidate, easily won the state’s Republican primary.
Ultimately, Tuesday’s dueling victories did little to change the trajectory of the Democratic race. The two will end up splitting delegates in Kentucky, and Sanders will gain a handful more than Clinton in Oregon. But her delegate lead will still remain almost 280 pledged delegates — virtually impossible for Sanders to make up in the remaining six state contests.
Speaking at a rally in California late Tuesday, Sanders was defiant that he would remain in the race despite the “steep hill” he faced. He said he was confident he would win the state’s primary on June 7 and promised to “fight for every vote” until the District of Columbia’s Democratic primary on June 14, and “take our fight to the convention” in July in Philadelphia.
Clinton’s apparent Kentucky win was her first primary victory since April; the Vermont senator recently notched wins in Indiana and West Virginia, but by margins that did little to close the gap with Clinton. Still, her repeated losses spurred talk that Clinton would have difficulty uniting Democrats in the fall, and also exposed her weaknesses with younger voters and white, working-class men. And it stalled her efforts to fully turn her fire ahead to a likely general election match-up with Trump.
That Bluegrass State moral victory was one Clinton fought hard for, campaigning heavily in the state. According to NBC News, it was the first state since March 15 where she outspent Sanders on the airwaves.
Both the Kentucky and Oregon contests were a closed primaries — meaning only registered Democrats, and not independents or crossover Republicans, could vote in the primary. Throughout the primaries, Clinton consistently has done better in such closed contests.
Sanders did well in Kentucky’s more rural areas — coal mining-heavy regions similar to those he captured last week in the West Virginia primary. Those are areas Clinton did well in versus Barack Obama in 2008, but since then she has come under fire for comments suggesting she would begin to phase out the industry in favor of cleaner energy sources. She also has become aligned with Obama’s unpopular environmental policies in the region. But Clinton did well enough in metro areas of the state like Lexington and Louisville to take the lead over Sanders.
In Oregon, where the primary was done almost entirely by mail-in ballot, Sanders carried the state’s typically more-progressive electorate, and was bolstered by big margins in areas with college towns.
Kentucky’s 55 pledged delegates will be split proportionally, and such a close finish means Clinton and Sanders each will get roughly the same number of delegates — again, not really enough to change Clinton’s advantage over Sanders. He still needs to win about 66 percent of all remaining pledged delegates to hold a majority of them; when superdelegates are included that proportion climbs to around 84 percent.
Sanders has remained in the race despite nearly insurmountable odds of reaching the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination. Tensions escalated between the campaigns and the national party on Tuesday as the Sanders campaign doubled down on charges they had been unfairly treated at this past weekend’s Nevada Democratic convention. There were tense confrontations between Sanders delegates and Nevada officials, and the state party chairwoman has said she since has received threats from Sanders supporters.