Bernie Sanders had another chance on Tuesday to slow Hillary Clinton’s march toward the Democratic U.S. presidential nomination as West Virginia held its primary election, a week after Donald Trump became the Republicans’ presumptive nominee.
Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, still holds a commanding lead in the pledged delegates needed to become the party’s candidate in the Nov. 8 election. Even a decisive victory for Sanders in West Virginia, where opinion polls show him at a slight advantage, would close the gap between them only slightly.
But her protracted battle with Sanders – a 74-year-old U.S. senator from Vermont who pulled off a victory in Indiana’s Democratic primary last week despite opinion polls there showing him trailing Clinton – has become a source of gloating for Trump.
The billionaire New York real estate developer has taunted Clinton in recent days by saying she “can’t close the deal” by beating Sanders, her only rival for the Democratic Party’s nomination since Feb. 1.
Clinton, 68, has said she will ignore Trump’s personal insults, including his repeated use of his new nickname for her, “Crooked Hillary,” and instead will criticize his policy pronouncements.
She spent Tuesday campaigning in Kentucky, where she will face another close primary contest with Sanders in a week.
Clinton visited a family health center in Louisville to unveil a proposal to increase federal subsidies so that no family pays more than 10 percent of its income for child care.
Vice President Joe Biden predicted on Tuesday that Clinton would ultimately prevail, a shift from the more circumspect comments heard recently from Democratic President Barack Obama and other White House officials.
“I feel confident that Hillary will be the nominee, and I feel confident she’ll be the next president,” Biden said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
To secure the Democratic nomination, a candidate needs 2,383 delegates, a majority of the convention delegates; another 29 were at stake on Tuesday.
Clinton has 2,228 delegates, 155 delegates short of the required minimum, according to the Associated Press. That includes 523 so-called superdelegates, elite party members who can support any candidate. Sanders has 1,454 delegates, including 39 superdelegates.
Trump’s victory in Indiana last Tuesday prompted his two remaining Republican rivals, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, to drop out of the race, clearing the way for the businessman to claim his party’s nomination.
He has already begun to vet running mates, and told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he had narrowed his list to five or six people who have legislative experience in Washington.
He has not ruled out picking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, his former rival until Christie ended his presidential bid in February. Christie, who endorsed Trump and then campaigned for him, on Monday was named to head Trump’s White House transition team.
Trump, 69, still faces resistance from many of the party’s elected officials, partly because he deviates from some of the conservative principles they hold dear. Trump was due to meet with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most senior elected Republican, in Washington on Thursday after Ryan said last week he was not ready to endorse Trump.
“We can’t just pretend to be unified when we know we’re not,” Ryan said in an interview on Tuesday on The Michael Medved Show, where he expressed optimism that he and Trump could patch up their differences before the party’s convention in July. “If we fake it then we’re going to go into the fall at half strength.”
Although Trump is the sole candidate from what had been a 17-person field vying for his party’s nomination, Republican voters in West Virginia and Nebraska got a chance to register their preferences on Tuesday; the names of most of his vanquished rivals still appeared on ballots.
Sanders has repeatedly told supporters at packed rallies that most opinion polls indicate he would beat Trump in a general election matchup by a larger margin than polls show Clinton defeating Trump.
A victory for Sanders in West Virginia could boost his campaign in advance of June 7 contests in which nearly 700 delegates are at stake, including 475 in California, where Sanders is now focusing his efforts.
Despite an uphill battle, Sanders has vowed to take his campaign all the way to the Democrats’ July 25-28 convention in Philadelphia, and wants a say in shaping the party’s platform.