Hillary Clinton took a major step toward securing the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night with a critical win in New York, leaving underdog Bernie Sanders to complain about the refs. The Clinton victory – by a decisive double digit margin according to early returns – interrupts Sanders' eight-contest winning streak and blocked a key opportunity for Sanders to eat into Clinton's large pledged delegate lead.
Two weeks ago, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders posted impressive wins in Wisconsin's presidential primaries, and "momentum" was all the rage. The national frontrunners -- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- were still comfortably ahead in their respective races, but the challengers hoped Wisconsin would be a turning point that set the cycle in a whole new direction.
Voters in New York, however, had their own ideas. Let's start with the Democratic primary, which was the more competitive contest.
The latest tallies show Clinton beating Sanders by roughly 16 points, slightly ahead of what pre-primary polls projected. The results also halt the senator's winning streak: Clinton's double-digit victory was her first win in any contest in nearly a month, with her most recent victory coming in Arizona on March 22.
And for Sanders, the timing couldn't be much worse. With the number of contests narrowing, the Vermonter faced long odds before last night's results, but the window of opportunity is nearly shut now, at least if Sanders intends to catch up to Clinton in pledged delegates.
Using recent history as a guide, Sanders' best chances of success come in caucus states with less racial diversity. There is such a contest remaining -- North Dakota's caucuses are on June 7 -- but much of the remaining calendar appears to favor Clinton. To secure the nomination, Sanders will either have to win practically every remaining contest by double digits, or he'll have to try to override the will of the voters. More on that later this morning.
Complicating matters, Sanders and his aides built up expectations in New York, repeatedly arguing that the senator was poised for a historic victory. Sanders spent two full weeks on the trail in the Empire State, where he outspent Clinton by a two-to-one margin, but in the end, he couldn't narrow the gap.
Tad Devine, Sanders' senior adviser, told reporters last night that after next week's five primaries, the campaign will "assess where we are." That's often a campaign euphemism for "acknowledging that we've come up short."
As for the Republican race, we knew before the polls closed that Trump would win in New York; the question was how big his victory would be. The answer was a landslide.
Some of the precincts have not yet reported, but it appears Trump finished with about 61% of the vote in his home state, followed by John Kasich's 25% and Ted Cruz's 15%. The Texas senator's boasts about "momentum" couldn't overcome his other rhetoric about "New York values."
Trump won 61 of the state's 62 counties. Ironically, the only one he lost is the one he lives in.
Though the official tallies are still coming together, Trump will likely add about 90 delegates to his overall total.
Of course, the question on the minds of much of the political world is what this means for the GOP frontrunner's chances of winning the nomination before the convention. It still won't be easy, but the New York results keep Trump on track for at least coming close, if not crossing the 1,237 delegate threshold by the time voting wraps up in June.
What is clear, however, is that Trump is all but certain to end the voting phase of the Republican race with more delegates, more popular votes, and more victories than his rivals. Given that dynamic, denying him the nomination at the convention would raise pretty important questions about the legitimacy of the GOP process itself.
As for the road ahead, the remaining calendar includes several states where Trump should do very well. Watch this space.