Hillary Clinton won the delegate-rich Texas Democratic primary as well as most other states voting on Super Tuesday, pushing her closer to locking down her party’s presidential nomination.
Powered by strong support from the minority community, Clinton, a former secretary of state, was expected to be far ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the overall delegate count by the end of the night. By early evening she had already won in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia and America Samoa, according to news organization projections from incomplete, unofficial returns.
Sanders had won Vermont, Oklahoma and the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses.
In Texas, with 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Clinton was ahead with 65.2 percent of the vote with Sanders garnering 33.2 percent of the vote in unofficial returns. In Tarrant County, with all the precincts reporting, Clinton held a similar lead with 65.2 percent against Sanders’ 34.2 percent.
“What a Super Tuesday!” Clinton shouted during a victory rally in Miami in a speech that was already looking ahead to the general election. The former first lady criticized the Republican Party for “turning its back” on the working and middle class. Without naming him, she also took aim at GOP front-runner Donald Trump for his divisive and sometimes angry rhetoric.
“America prospers when we all prosper. America is strong when we’re all strong,” Clinton said. “And we know we’ve got work to do, but that work is not to make America great again. America never stopped being great.”
“We have to make America whole; we have to fill in what’s been hollowed out. We have to make strong the broken places, restitch the bonds of trust and respect across our country,” she said.
Sanders, in a rally in his home state, sounded defiant and pledged to fight on. He told a cheering crowd that it meant a lot to him that “the people who know me best” gave him a victory. Hitting on his favorite campaign themes of income inequality, criminal justice reform and climate change, Sanders said he knows that the political establishment often says he “thinks too big.”
“This campaign is not just about electing a president,” Sanders said, It is about a “political revolution.”
In a repeat of her South Carolina victory, Clinton was supported by about 8 in 10 black voters in Virginia and Georgia, according to early results of exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research. Black voters made up about half of the voters in Georgia and about a quarter in Virginia.
Since the Democratic Party distributes its delegates proportionally, it is impossible for Clinton to say she has the party’s nomination in her back pocket, but analysts said statistically it will be very difficult for Sanders, after posting a strong challenge to Clinton, to wrest the prize from her grasp.
Democrats voted in 11 states and American Samoa Tuesday, with 1,016 delegates up for grabs. It takes 2,383 delegates to obtain the nomination. Entering Super Tuesday, Clinton had 546 delegates, including super delegates, the party leaders and members of Congress. Sanders had 87.
After playing a ho-hum role in recent presidential primaries, Texas was by far the biggest and most coveted prize on Super Tuesday with its 251 delegates, the third-largest package in the Democratic nomination race behind California and New York.
“Texas is Hillary Country!,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “Secretary Clinton is family to us here in Texas. She fought hard for a Texas-sized win and we thank her for it. With a Texas win, Clinton is now well on her way to secure the Democratic nomination.”
While Sanders, a Vermont independent, opened campaign offices and hired staffers long before Clinton in Texas, Clinton relied heavily on friendships and knowledge of the state’s political landscape developed since campaigning here in the 1970s for George McGovern.
“Texas is far and away the biggest prize on both sides of the aisle,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, more than double those offered in Georgia and Massachusetts, for example. “It dwarfs the other states.”
Garry Mauro, former Texas Land Commissioner and old running buddy of the Clintons, said, “If the polls are right and the momentum created by the candidates are right, we should do pretty well.”
The momentum Mauro was referring to was Clinton’s landslide victory in South Carolina, where she got 73.5 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 26 percent. It was her third win in the first four primaries, in which she suffered an embarrassing loss in New Hampshire.
“It was a big win. What I expect to see is that Hillary Clinton will win handily in Texas,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The South Carolina result showed that Clinton has a commanding lead over Sanders among minority voters.”
It is the second time Clinton won the Texas primary. In 2008, she defeated President Obama in the popular vote but lost the fight over delegates in the now-abandoned system called the Texas Two Step. Now delegates get a proportional number of delegates to the national convention.
Sanders, however, gave Clinton a run for her money in Texas. The democratic socialist waged an unexpectedly potent assault in Texas by tapping into widespread anger over Wall Street corruption, pay-for-play politics and social inequality.
While Clinton counted among her supporters many of the state’s Democratic leadership, Sanders snagged the support of nationally known populist Jim Hightower. His calls for free college tuition also made him popular among college students and other first-time political activists.
Setting himself apart from the other candidates on the ballot, Sanders’ organizers got his name on the ballot by raising more than 12,000 petition signatures, well above the 5,000 or so needed, instead of paying the $2,500 filing fee. All the other presidential candidates coughed up the cash.
Another sign of his potent popularity were the crowds he attracted to his rallies where he called for a “political revolution.” At the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Saturday, more than 7,000 people gathered to hear his clarion calls for a higher minimum wage and a revamping of the criminal justice system.
“It turns out that it is one thing to have the support of the establishment,” Sanders told the cheering, chanting crowd. “It is another thing to have the support of the people.”
‘Flavor of the month’
Mauro recognized the power of the Sanders’ candidacy, saying there is “always the flavor of the month in every election.” He also worried that a complacency among Clinton’s supporters might set in following the drubbing she gave Sanders in South Carolina.
As a result, the Clinton campaign worked hard up to Election Day. On Monday, former President Bill Clinton stumped for his wife in Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston. It was not by accident that he appeared at Tarrant County College’s downtown campus to appeal to young voters.
Clinton supporters also manned phone banks on Tuesday to get voters to cast ballots for her.
“Just remember, the Bernie Sanders people opened four offices and had 10 staffers here and I’ve got to assume there is a lot of grassroots support and I would think that would carry over to Tuesday,” Mauro said. After concentrating on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he said the campaign focused on Texas. “We started in Texas a month ago and we’re playing catch up.”
Strong in Tarrant
Jason C.N. Smith, a Fort Worth attorney who headed Clinton’s effort in Tarrant County, said on Tuesday they were getting people to the polls and communicating with voters through emails and social media as well as phone banks.
“The campaign didn’t kick into full gear until about three weeks ago, but we had laid a lot of groundwork. We took off running,” Smith said. “I never want to take any votes for granted. That is why we have been working late to make sure our voters got out and Bill Clinton’s visit to Fort Worth did a lot to energize Hillary’s voters.”
In the end Sanders efforts fell short on Super Tuesday.
“All Bernie Sanders has left is a cause candidacy where he will keep talking but the fight is all but over,” Jillson said. “If Clinton wins 8 of 11, everyone will know she is the eventual nominee even if it takes several weeks or months. We’re going to know even though it is not mathematically determined.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post