MIAMI — Hillary Clinton bested rival Bernie Sanders in seven Super Tuesday states, strengthening her momentum as she marches toward the Democratic presidential nomination.
Propelled in part by a sweep of Southern states with large black voting populations, Clinton is now on a path toward a permanent lead among delegates that will be hard for Sanders to surmount. Although Sanders held his own by winning four of 11 states Tuesday, Clinton’s performance dramatically widened her lead as she tries to put to rest any lingering doubts over her shaky start in the 2016 voting.
Speaking to supporters in Miami on Tuesday night, Clinton seemed to assume the mantle of presumptive nominee, speaking only briefly of Sanders and instead looking ahead to the general election — and taking jabs at the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, without mentioning his name.
“America prospers when we all prosper. America is strong when we’re all strong,” she said. “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.”
That play on Trump’s signature line gave a strong hint about the thrust of Clinton’s argument in a head-to-head contest: She would say the country needs to unite and build on what she calls President Obama’s accomplishments, and she would seek to turn Trump’s bitter rhetoric against him.
“It’s clear tonight that the stakes of this election have never been higher,” Clinton said. “And the rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower.”
She slipped into the cadences of the black church as she thanked supporters in Miami.
“We have to make strong the broken places,” she said, “re-stitch the bonds of trust and respect across our country.”
Sanders remains a potent force who can pull Clinton to the left and force her to spend money and other political resources to keep her footing in the primary race while she looks ahead to a likely contest with Trump in the fall.
Sanders’s campaign boasted Tuesday that he had raised more money in February, almost all of it in small amounts, than Clinton. The campaign also announced late Tuesday that it would host a “path forward” breakfast for the media Wednesday to detail what it considers a viable way to the Democratic nomination.
Sanders’s team has mapped out a busy schedule in coming days, with events planned in Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Ohio — all by Saturday.
Clinton’s choice of Florida for her election night party was a nod to its upcoming primary on March 15 — and also to November, when it will be an important swing state. If Clinton captures Florida and other states in two weeks, she will have an effective lock on the nomination.
In his own election night speech, also in Florida, Trump showed that he was just as ready to take aim at Clinton as she was at him. He was dismissive of Clinton’s remarks, saying that in his opinion, “Make America great again” has a better ring to it than “Make America whole again.”
Up in Vermont, Sanders celebrated his home-state victory at a party in Essex Junction. He also won in Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota.
Standing with his wife, children and grandchildren, the democratic socialist senator said that while he wants to win in every part of the country, it was meaningful that “the people who know me best . . . have voted so strongly to put us in the White House.”
He vowed to stay in the race until voters in all 50 states have had a say, noting that by the end of the night, only those in 15 states would have done so.
More delegates were up for grabs on Super Tuesday than on any other single day in the Democratic nominating calendar.
Clinton had been widely expected to win in six Southern states, including Virginia, that were considered a “firewall” of African American support with the power to blunt Sanders’s surge, which had carried him to an effective tie with Clinton in Iowa and a 22-point victory in New Hampshire. Clinton began regaining momentum after a five-point victory in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses — and a trouncing of Sanders by nearly 50 points in South Carolina.
She was immediately declared the winner in Georgia and Virginia when polls closed at 7 p.m.; Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee came next. She also won delegate-rich Texas. And she dominated in most of the states she won, including a nearly 60-point margin in Alabama with more than half of precincts reporting.
In Virginia, with all returns in, Clinton defeated Sanders by nearly 30 points. Preliminary exit polls there showed that roughly 6 in 10 voters wanted to continue the policies of the Obama presidency, something Clinton has largely promised to do. Voters made the connection; Clinton was winning those voters by about 60 points, while Sanders held a 2-to-1 lead among those who wanted more liberal policies.
“Experience” was the top candidate quality Virginia voters said they preferred, picked by more than a third in preliminary exit poll data, and Clinton won those voters by about 90 points.
Sanders had concentrated on five states Tuesday: Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Vermont. All have whiter voting populations, and most have a liberal bent. He won all but Massachusetts, which Clinton claimed by a narrow margin.
Pop star Ben Folds was still playing onstage at Sanders’s election night party when news organizations called Vermont for Sanders. Clinton never campaigned there, although she won the endorsement of some prominent state leaders and one newspaper.
Because of Democrats’ system of awarding delegates proportionally, Sanders collects significant numbers of delegates even in states he loses.
He reminded his audience of that Tuesday, telling supporters that “by the end of tonight, we are going to win many hundreds of delegates.”
Sanders had been expected to do well in Minnesota’s caucus format. But Clinton’s late decision to make a caucus-day campaign swing to the state showed that she considered it competitive.
Sanders also continued his dominance among young voters, a dynamic that worries some Clinton supporters for the general election. In Oklahoma, for instance, he beat Clinton by more than 60 points among voters under 30 and by 42 points among those 30 to 44, according to preliminary exit polls reported by CNN.
Asked whether she would call on Sanders to drop out of the race if his path to winning the nomination became impossible, Clinton said Tuesday that she would defer to him.
“Everybody has to make their own decisions,” Clinton said before leaving Minnesota for Florida, where 214 delegates are at stake March 15.
Sanders and his advisers say the calendar now becomes more favorable to his campaign, with most of the Southern states behind them and several delegate-rich targets on the horizon, including Michigan and other states battered by trade that are likely to be more open to Sanders’s economic message.
The Democratic candidates will debate in Flint, Mich., on Sunday. A government decision in the poor, majority-black city led to contaminated water and a crisis of lead poisoning that has become a touchstone in the Democratic race this year.
Regardless of Sanders’s performance Tuesday, money is not likely to be a problem for his campaign anytime soon.
The campaign announced Monday that it had raised an eye-popping $42 million in February, twice Sanders’s haul in January. As further evidence of his donors’ enthusiasm, the campaign said it had raised more than $6 million on the final day of February, nearly matching the amount taken in during the 24 hours after his stunning victory over Clinton in the New Hampshire primary.
Clinton’s campaign sent out two email fundraising appeals as returns came in Tuesday night.
Camellia Noriega, a Miami resident, said Clinton struggled early in the campaign but has since proved that she can address the concerns of diverse groups of Americans.
“No one’s perfect, and you can’t expect anything to be pure,” said Noriega, 41. “I think she can win, and that’s the most important strategic decision we can make right now.
Wagner reported from Essex Junction, Vt., and Gearan from Washington.