Bernie Sanders and his campaign team recognized the fact that their window of opportunity was closing quickly. To close the pledged-delegate gap against Hillary Clinton, the Vermont senator would effectively have to win each of the remaining contests by large margins, which seemed improbable.
Last night, that window effectively closed. Sanders pulled out a win in Rhode Island, but he otherwise had a very rough night, losing each of the other four primaries, including double-digit defeats in the day's two biggest contests: Maryland and Pennsylvania.
It's not that Sanders wasn't trying in these states. The senator put his enormous financial resources to use and outspent Clinton in these states by a nearly two-to-one margin
, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Democratic frontrunner from expanding her overall lead.
Recognizing the writing on the wall, Sanders' aides conceded yesterday that the campaign will "reassess
" its strategy going forward. While that's often a euphemism for "quit," that's not the case here: Sanders isn't prepared to walk away, but he is prepared to shift his focus in light of the recent results. Consider the statement his campaign issued last night:
"I congratulate Secretary Clinton on her victories tonight, and I look forward to issue-oriented campaigns in the 14 contests to come. [...] "The people in every state in this country should have the right to determine who they want as president and what the agenda of the Democratic Party should be. That's why we are in this race until the last vote is cast. That is why this campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform that calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to our disastrous trade policies, a Medicare-for-all health care system, breaking up Wall Street financial institutions, ending fracking in our country, making public colleges and universities tuition free and passing a carbon tax so we can effectively address the planetary crisis of climate change."
Over the last couple of months, each of the Sanders campaign's election-night statements have included at least one reference to his "path to the nomination." This one did not. It wasn't an accidental omission.
Sanders started the race as an issue-oriented candidate who didn't expect to be the party's nominee, and the recent results have brought him full circle. He's not done fighting; he's just going to fight for something new: he can't catch Clinton through the ballot box, but he can "fight for a progressive party platform."
And as MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald noted
, the Democratic frontrunner is ready to adapt her message accordingly.
Onstage in a city where she will in all likelihood will be crowned the Democratic presidential nominee in July, Hillary Clinton on Tuesday moved to embrace Bernie Sanders' supporters as she expanded her already significant delegate lead in the day's primaries. "With your help, we're going to come back to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention," Clinton said to supporters. "We will unify our party to win this election." [...] On Tuesday, Clinton not only praised her rival but elevated his issues and made common cause with his voters. "I applaud Senator Sanders and his millions of supporters," she said. She ticked through his core issues -- curbing big money in politics and economic inequality, addressing climate change -- and explained they are her priorities, too.
Expect more of this kind of messaging in the weeks to come, as Clinton starts eyeing a general election against Donald Trump, and Sanders shifts his focus to the Democratic platform.