Clinton wins Kentucky, Sanders takes Oregon, CNN projects

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Hillary Clinton will squeeze out a cliffhanger victory over Bernie Sanders in Kentucky’s Democratic primary Tuesday, CNN projects, a result that keeps her on track to win the nomination but also highlights deep divisions in the party.

Clinton won the state by almost half a percentage point, according to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website. Clinton declared victory after Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “based on what we are seeing coming in, … Kentucky will remain in a win column for the Clintons.”

Sanders, meanwhile, will win the Oregon Democratic primary, according to a CNN projection. Speaking in Carson, California, he noted his strength in Kentucky, a state where Clinton soundly beat then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and celebrated that he would still win a sizable chunk of delegates.

“It appears tonight we’re going to end up with about half of the delegates,” he said. “This is in a sense the beginning of the final push to win California.”

Despite calls for him to drop out, Sanders insisted he would stay in the race until “the last ballot is cast.”

Regardless of the margin, Clinton’s win in Kentucky is a welcome development for a campaign that is fighting a two-front war against Sanders and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Sanders holds an early lead in the Oregon Democratic primary. For his part, Trump won the Oregon Republican primary.

The Clinton victory in Kentucky follows a dramatic few days in which the divide among Democrats — overshadowed for much of the primary season by the rollicking GOP contest — is increasingly apparent. The Nevada State Democratic Convention tipped into chaos this weekend as Sanders’ supporters cursed and hurled insults at Clinton allies.

The tumult jarred the party as top members including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid blasted Sanders’ response and Sanders argued the party establishment is lining up against him.

A victory for Sanders in Kentucky would have exacerbated doubts about Clinton’s personal skills on the stump and wider appeal, even among Democrats — especially in a state where the Clintons have maintained deep political roots for decades and where she mounted an intense campaign swing in the final days before the primary.

The contests won’t significantly alter the overall shape of the Democratic primary race. Clinton maintains a lead of nearly 300 pledged delegates. The only way Sanders could deprive of her of the nomination would be to pull off lopsided victories in the remaining races and convince Democratic super delegates, who overwhelmingly favor Clinton, that they should abandon the front–runner, who has more delegates and a larger share of the popular vote.

Clinton and her allies seem especially eager to move on to the general election phase of the campaign. Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton super PAC, will begin airing general election ads against Trump on Wednesday in states that will be key battle grounds in November, including Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Nevada.

But first, Clinton must finish the primaries.

Kentucky is the type of state where the former secretary of state has prospered this year. Only Democratic voters could take part in its closed primary, meaning independents who normally lean towards Sanders are left out. Former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned energetically for his wife, carried Kentucky in both his election wins in 1992 and 1996 and the Clintons maintain deep political roots in the state. Clinton has also done well in southern contests.

Clinton and her allies seem especially eager to move on to the general election phase of the campaign. Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton super PAC, will begin airing general election ads against Trump on Wednesday in states that will be key battle grounds in November, including Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Nevada.

But first, Clinton must finish the primaries.

Kentucky is the type of state where the former secretary of state has prospered this year. Only Democratic voters could take part in its closed primary, meaning independents who normally lean towards Sanders are left out. Former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned energetically for his wife, carried Kentucky in both his election wins in 1992 and 1996 and the Clintons maintain deep political roots in the state. Clinton has also done well in southern contests.

“Here’s my thinking, everybody was going down, the last thing we needed was to allow the auto industry with millions of jobs in the supply chain to go down too,” Clinton said in Kentucky on Monday.

The Sanders campaign has repeatedly accused Clinton of twisting the truth on the vote, saying the Vermont senator backed the bailout but voted against a bill in which funds for it were contained in a large Wall Street rescue.

Clinton also headlined 11 campaign stops over the last two weeks in Kentucky.

Out west, Oregon’s coalition of white, liberal voters is the perfect demographic match for Sanders. Voting, which is conducted by mail in Oregon, is only open to registered Democrats — a factor that could help Clinton.

Kentucky has 55 pledged delegates up for grabs and Oregon has 61 and they are distributed on a proportional basis, meaning that Sanders needed a blowout victory to make a meaningful impression on Clinton’s pledged delegate advantage.

According to CNN’s latest estimates, Clinton has 2,243 delegates including 1,722 pledged delegates and 521 superdelegates — party officials and office holders who can vote however they choose at the convention.

Sanders has 1,465 delegates, including 1,424 pledged delegates and 41 superdelegates. A total of 2,383 delegates are needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.

By Stephen Collinson