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Clinton Widens Lead Over Sanders With Super Tuesday Wins


Donald Trump has increased his lead among Republicans after about a dozen states voted yesterday. Hillary Clinton is well ahead on the Democratic side, though neither contest is over.


In today's program, we are asking where voters are taking the parties and the country. Right now we focus on the Democrats. And we begin this discussion by recalling how we got here. NPR's Tamara Keith has covered this campaign from the start.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took the stage early, well before most of the results were in. But even then, there were hints that he knew it wasn't going to be a great night.


BERNIE SANDERS: As I think all of you know, this campaign is not just about electing a president. It is about transforming America.


KEITH: Sanders was surrounded by friends and supporters in his home state of Vermont, where he won his most decisive victory of the night. At a rally in Miami, Fla., where people will vote in two weeks, Hillary Clinton was already looking ahead.


HILLARY CLINTON: Instead of building walls, we're going to break down barriers and build...


CLINTON: ...Build ladders of opportunity and empowerment so every American can live up to his or her potential.

KEITH: Clinton swept the Southern states voting yesterday, and the margins were huge. Credit goes to her strong support among black voters. Clinton also won in Massachusetts, a state that Sanders had hoped to have in his win column. It's all a boost to her potentially historic candidacy. Nine months ago, at a big outdoor rally in New York, Clinton alluded to that highest, hardest glass ceiling she hopes to break and said she was glad to be...


CLINTON: ...In a place with absolutely no ceilings.


KEITH: For Sanders, this moment in the campaign is a comedown from the heady days of summer.


SANDERS: Whoa, in case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of people here.

KEITH: Sanders' political revolution drew legions of young fans and filled arenas. But big crowds and remarkable fundraising totals from small individual contributions haven't translated into the kind of broad-based support needed to win the Democratic nomination. Clinton hasn't drawn big crowds, but she has brought out more than enough voters to win in states from Alabama to Massachusetts and Nevada. This even as she spent the entire campaign batting back controversy over the private email server she used as secretary of state. A key moment came in the first debate back in October on CNN, when Sanders seemingly gave Clinton a pass.


SANDERS: Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right. And that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.

CLINTON: Thank you - me too - me too (laughter).

KEITH: That was the beginning of a very good run for Clinton, but as voting drew near, so did Sanders. It became a race between his idealism and Clinton's pragmatism.


CLINTON: I'm not running on just telling you what you want to hear. I'm telling you what I think I can do.

KEITH: Clinton won the Iowa caucuses but by the closest margin ever. Sanders had a decisive win in New Hampshire, and Clinton's march to the nomination looked to be in trouble. But then came wins in Nevada and South Carolina, giving Clinton momentum into last night's contest. And now she has a massive lead in the race for delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith in Miami. In our studios now, here in Washington, is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: And also with us is Democratic pollster Margie Omero. She is co-host of the podcast, "The Pollsters." Margie, good to see you again.

MARGIE OMERO: Good morning.

GREENE: Sue, let me start with you. Super Tuesday was basically invented to try and get these primaries over with early in the calendar. It doesn't...

DAVIS: If we could be so lucky.

GREENE: ....(Laughter) Even covering this for a little while. This doesn't appear over.

DAVIS: No, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton won the delegates they need to have won their nominations outright. The race rolls on. But what Super Tuesday did was it didn't change the trajectory of this race, which keeps Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the front-runners for their nomination. We are one step closer to a general election that puts these two against each other. But Donald Trump's opponents and Hillary Clinton's opponents still have enough of an argument to stay in the race. We've probably got about another two more, three weeks left before it becomes overwhelmingly clear unless they have enough delegates to fight it to the conventions.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about something that we heard in Tamara Keith's report just now, Margie Omero. She reported that Clinton obviously is winning a lot of votes, winning a lot of states, but not drawing big crowds. What, if anything, does that tell you?

OMERO: Well, it may tell us that that's not her strategy. Her strategy is not necessarily about drawing big crowds, but about going out and meeting local folks, folks who can help get out the vote. It's just may be a difference in the type of strategy that the Sanders campaign versus the Clinton campaign.

INSKEEP: Although you know people listen to that and take that as a sign of a lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, do you?

OMERO: Well, for sure Sanders has had some enthusiasm with younger voters, with first-time voters. You see that in the exit poll in every state that's voted so far where he does better with younger, newer voters. And I think that's going to continue as he goes on. And I think part of it is that he's a new - I mean, he's not new to folks in Washington. But he's a new property. He's a new figure to folks across the country.

GREENE: Well, one of the things that a lot of people talked about with Hillary Clinton in 2008 was she didn't have the organization for sort of the long primary battle that Barack Obama really had that. The fact that she's not drawing crowds but is getting the votes where she needs them, I mean, did she learn something from '08 and really has a strategy to sort of play this process in the right way?

OMERO: I think, from my observer seat, she is clearly running a better campaign than she was in 2008. She's more open. She's, you know, talking to voters. She's talking about women's issues. She's talking about racial justice a lot more comfortably than she did in 2008 for sure.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about a bigger question here, not just the tactics, but what voters seem to be telling us in these primary elections so far. You've each got a different perspective on this. Margie, you're looking at polls. Sue Davis, you are talking with members of Congress, who are hypersensitive to what the public wants even though people feel that they don't necessarily respond to it. When you talk to lawmakers, when you look at the results, do you see any sense of what, on the Democratic side, this campaign is about? What are voters saying that they want?

DAVIS: You know, in some ways, there's a similar argument going on in both parties. They're just having opposite reactions. The one thing we hear, across the spectrum, is about economic insecurity. We see elements of populist arguments coming up from the Republican base and the Democratic base. A lot of what's driving Bernie Sanders is that fear for the economic future. There's also a feeling of anger that traditional institutions have let you down and that the party elites don't get it.

INSKEEP: Why is it that - also we've heard that. We've heard that. Why is it that white voters and minority voters would seem to be responding to that anxiety differently, at least on the Democratic side?

OMERO: Well, I think there's a variety of things going on. I mean, first, Clinton's had a long-standing, decades long relationship with the African-American community. And I think that the Sanders campaign and the Sanders team - they are introducing Sanders to the team as well as to the African-American community, as well as improving his popularity. So both popularity and hard ID at the same time. And while those have been improving, they have not been improving necessarily quickly enough. While Clinton's had decades of a base to deepen that connection.

INSKEEP: Sue, you were going to say something.

DAVIS: Sanders has not proven that he appeals yet beyond the more elite, liberal voter - elite, white, liberal voter. And that was increasingly apparent on Super Tuesday. Clinton's wins throughout the South show that she has overwhelmingly more support among minority voters. And if a Democratic nominee is not winning strong among African-Americans and minorities, they cannot win the White House.

GREENE: Did something happen yesterday among Democratic voters? I mean, a lot of this campaign we've been talking about people wanting something new, something, you know, an outsider so to speak. A lot of the exit polls seem to suggest that Democratic voters are now saying they want experience, which seems to be sort of a change from what we've been talking about in this campaign so far. Does it not?

OMERO: Well, I think Democrats typically like experience, and certainly folks - voters who say they prioritize experience for sure say they're voting for Clinton. I think what we have on the left is very much different than what's happening on the Republican side. On the left, the exit polls show - and lots of non-exit polls show - that Democratic primary voters are going to vote for whoever the nominee is. There's no - never - #neverClinton, #neverSanders hash tag going on on the left the way there is on the right. I mean, they're going to joyfully show up in November regardless.

INSKEEP: Are they going to joyfully show up, or show otherwise for an issue? Because there's something of a substantive difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, at least in the degree of change that they want. Clinton has positioned herself as essentially continuing the Obama legacy. Sanders has talked of a political revolution. There are some differences on the issues. Do you have a sense of what the voters want actually to do?

DAVIS: Well, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, Democrats I talked to say he's going to be their motivating force, that that - the debate becomes less about policy. It becomes a much more stylistic election, and that for Democratic-base voters who are maybe questioning Hillary Clinton, like Margie said, they are never going to vote for Trump. And he will be a very motivating factor for the Democratic base.

INSKEEP: Just got about 30 seconds - how close are we to a general election that pits the candidate from New York against the candidate from New York?


OMERO: And maybe another candidate from New York.

INSKEEP: You never know, Bloomberg is out there muttering, yeah.

OMERO: Well, I'm from New Jersey. It sounds OK to me.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

OMERO: But, you know, I think when it comes to some of these issues on the Democratic side, we like the conversation that we're having. And I think there's a lot that we can all agree on.

GREENE: Much more to come throughout the morning. Democratic pollster Margie Omero, thanks a lot.

OMERO: Thank you.

GREENE: And our congressional correspondent Sue Davis, thanks as always.

DAVIS: Thanks guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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