Halfway through Hillary Clinton’s victory speech following her win in the New York Democratic primary, she had a not-so-subtle message to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
“To all the people who supported Sen. Sanders, I believe there’s much more that unites us than divides us,” Clinton said.
In a nod toward the general-election campaign to come, she added: “The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight.”
Tuesday night’s overwhelming victory came as a welcome relief for Clinton supporters. The delegate-rich New York primary contest was long a potential bright spot on the primary calendar as the former secretary of state racked up several losses in smaller primaries and caucuses over the past several weeks.
Speaking to reporters after Clinton’s primary-night party, Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, highlighted the steep electoral maths for Sanders to overtake the former secretary of state’s massive pledged-delegate lead.
Though she did not call on the senator to drop out, Palmieri emphasised that the campaign would have to prove why it was staying in the election after the contests wrap up.
“We do think that it is certainly within his right to go all the way,” Palmieri said of Sanders’ pledge to continue campaigning until the Democratic convention in July. “But we hope that at the end of the contests, she will lead the popular vote, she will lead in pledged delegates. At that point, they will have to prove to you how they will win the nomination.”
Palmieri also criticised Sanders’ attacks in a primary that has become snippy of late, and she called on the the senator’s campaign to tone down his rhetoric and focus on policy differences.
“What he said he would never do is run a negative campaign that is not about issues. We believe that he needs to return to campaigning about issues,” Palmieri said.
She continued: “There’s no question that the behaviour of Sen. Sanders and his campaign has been destructive, and it’s not productive for Democrats.”
The Sanders campaign isn’t publicly ready to throw in the towel.
In the month leading up to the primary, Sanders staffers maintained that the insurgent Democratic presidential candidate could pull off an upset in the Empire State. But as the polls solidified ahead of the primary, his advisers attempted to downplay the state’s significance.
Asked last Thursday whether Sanders needed to win in New York, senior Sanders advisor Tad Devine said that if the campaign beat expectations in later contests, the senator still had a shot.
“I think we have to do well here in New York, but there are plenty of events between here and California and Washington, DC, at the end for us to make up the difference,” Devine said.
He added: “I’m not going to say that we are going to win every contest between now and the middle of June, but we are going to win most of them, we are going to win by far most of the delegates, we can make up the pledged delegate differential. And I believe, when the voting is over, we will be ahead in pledged delegates.”
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, projected a similar message after Sanders’ loss Tuesday night. He even suggested that the campaign would look to flip so-called superdelegates ahead of the Democratic convention.
“Look, we’re going to go to the convention,” he said on MSNBC. “It is extremely unlikely that either candidate will have the requisite number of pledged delegates to get to this number. … It’s going to be an election determined by the superdelegates.”