WASHINGTON. – Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders easily won nominating contests in Alaska, Washington and Hawaii on Saturday, chipping away at front-runner Hillary Clinton’s commanding lead in the race to pick the party’s candidate for the White House. Sanders still faces a steep climb to overtake Clinton but the big victories in the West generated more momentum for his upstart campaign and could stave off calls from Democratic leaders that he should wrap up his bid in the name of party unity.
Sanders appeared headed to victory margins of more than 50 percentage points in both Alaska and Washington, and led by about 40 points in Hawaii with some 90 percent of the results tallied there.
“We are making significant inroads in Secretary Clinton’s lead and. . .we have a path to victory,” Sanders told cheering, chanting supporters in Madison, Wisconsin. “It is hard for anybody to deny that our campaign has the momentum.”
Clinton, the former secretary of state, has increasingly turned her attention toward a potential November 8 general election showdown against Republican front-runner Donald Trump, claiming she is on the path to wrapping up the nomination.
Heading into Saturday, she led Sanders by about 300 pledged delegates in the race for the 2 382 delegates needed to be nominated at the party’s July convention in Philadelphia. Adding in the support of superdelegates – party leaders who are free to back any candidate – she has 1 690 delegates to 946 for Sanders.
Sanders, a US senator from Vermont, needs to win up to two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch Clinton, who will keep piling up delegates even when she loses under a Democratic Party system that awards them proportionally in all states.
“These wins will help him raise more funds for the next few weeks but I don’t think it changes the overall equation,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a Clinton supporter. “Hillary Clinton has too big a lead.”
But Sanders has repeatedly said he is staying in the race until the convention, pointing to big crowds at his rallies and high turnout among young and first-time voters as proof of his viability. After raising $140 million, he has the money to fight on as long as he wants.
He has energised the party’s liberal base and young voters with his calls to rein in Wall Street and fight income inequality, a message that resonated in liberal Washington and other Western states. Sanders won in Utah and Idaho this week.
“Don’t let anybody tell you we can’t win the nomination or the general election,” Sanders told supporters in Wisconsin, which holds the next contest on April 5. “We are going to do both.”
All three contests on Saturday were caucuses, a format that has favored Sanders because it requires more commitment from voters. They also were in states with fewer of the black and Hispanic voters who have helped fuel Clinton’s lead.
Meanwhile, an effigy of US presidential contender Donald Trump – a hated figure for many in Mexico – was set ablaze late Saturday in a contemporary twist on a Holy Week ritual. A smiling figure of the billionaire American businessman went up in flames during the Easter eve “Burning of Judas,” a tradition in which Mexicans torch effigies of the devil – and of public figures they dislike.
In a neighborhood of the Mexican capital city, this year the devil took the form of Trump, who is notorious here for comments made during his presidential campaign accusing Mexican immigrants in the United States of being criminals and rapists.
About 200 people attended the event late Saturday, in which a 2m papier-mache likeness of Trump wearing a blue suit, white shirt and red tie was torched. The figure was created by Felipe Linares, who has been making effigies for more than 50 years at a workshop founded by his father in the early 20th century.
This year he made likenesses of the devil, President Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and Trump – all of which went up in flames.
Linares told AFP the likeness of Trump was chosen “because we don’t like him. He speaks ill of Mexicans.”
He was referring to the real estate tycoon’s remarks on the campaign trail describing Mexican migrants as criminals and rapists.
The Holy Week tradition of burning effigies is believed to symbolically dispel evil, while torching the Judas figure exacts revenge for the death of Jesus. – Reuters/AFP.