Hillary Clinton took full command of the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday as she rolled to major victories over Bernie Sanders in Texas, Virginia and across the South and proved for the first time that she could build a national coalition of racially diverse voters that would be crucial in the November election.
Based on results from Democratic primaries and caucuses in 11 states, Clinton succeeded in containing Sanders to states he was expected to win, like Vermont and Oklahoma, and overpowering him in predominantly black and Hispanic areas that were rich in delegates needed for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton, who also won Massachusetts and showed notable strength among Southern white voters, came away with a strong delegate lead over Sanders — notably larger than the one that Barack Obama had over her at this point in the 2008 presidential race.
“What a super Tuesday!’’ Clinton declared to cheers at a victory rally in Miami. In her recent signature line mocking Donald J. Trump’s slogan, she said: “America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole — fill in what’s been hollowed out.’’
“The rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,’’ she added. “Trying to divide America between us and them is wrong, and we’re not going to let it work.’’ As the crowd broke out in chants of “USA,’’ she said, “Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together, my friends, and we all have to do our part.’’
The contests on Tuesday were well suited to Clinton’s strengths: her popularity with minority voters, her political kinship with Southern Democrats from her two decades in Arkansas, and her success in delegate-rich Texas in 2008. She won sizable victories in Arkansas as well as Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, with especially big margins in counties with many blacks.
Sanders’ advisers, in turn, described Tuesday as their candidate’s most difficult moment on the primary calendar, given the diverse electorate, the relative lack of states with huge liberal populations, and the dearth of caucuses — a format that Sanders believes favors him. He won the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota on Tuesday; Clinton won earlier caucuses in Iowa and Nevada.
While even the poorest showing would not drive Sanders from the presidential race, his advisers said, Clinton was already looking past her party rival on Tuesday and toward Trump, the leading Republican candidate, saying she was “very disappointed’’ that he initially refused to disavow support from David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
“We can’t let organizations and individuals that hold deplorable views about what it means to be an American be given any credence at all,’’ Clinton told reporters while campaigning at a Minnesota coffee shop. “I’m going to continue to speak out about bigotry wherever I see it or hear about it.’’
Sanders, who has also criticized Trump over the Duke endorsement, cast his ballot in the Vermont primary on Tuesday and held a victory party shortly after he was declared the winner there at 7 p.m. Choosing not to wait and see the results in other states, Sanders sounded defiant at times and philosophical at others as he spoke to a hometown crowd of cheering admirers near Burlington.
“I know Secretary Clinton and many of the establishment people think I’m looking and thinking too big,’’ Sanders said of his proposals for free public college and Medicare for all. “I don’t think so!’’
“By the end of tonight, we are going to win many hundreds of delegates,’’ he predicted. “We have come a very long way in 10 months.’’
The closest race of the night was in Massachusetts, where Sanders campaigned aggressively and where many liberals shared his politics and had elected his ideological ally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But Clinton, buoyed by strong support in the Boston area and working-class towns like Lowell, New Bedford and Springfield, edged out Sanders, who fared best in western Massachusetts and towns bordering Vermont and New Hampshire.
Clinton, who won Massachusetts comfortably in 2008, visited on Monday, and former President Bill Clinton held events that night and on Tuesday.
Going into the nationwide contests, Clinton held a delegate lead of 91 to 65 over Sanders. About 880 of the 4,765 total delegates were at stake on Tuesday; under party rules, they will be awarded proportionally based on vote tallies for each of the candidates, with Democratic-leaning congressional districts and areas assigned the most delegates.
Clinton was set to win at least 150 more delegates than Sanders from Tuesday’s states; the final delegate allocation will be determined in the coming days. That outcome would give Clinton a bigger lead than Obama eventually established in 2008, which she was unable to overcome. The delegate haul resulted from a broad cross-section of support for Clinton: In Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, blacks accounted for more than half the population in some districts, while Hispanics dominated many of the districts in Texas that allocated delegates on Tuesday. Clinton had some of her best results in these regions, and also did well in largely white areas of the south.
Clinton won about 6 in 10 white voters in Alabama and Arkansas, and she performed strongly in white rural parts of Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia — results that her advisers highlighted as evidence that she could do well with working-class white voters in Ohio, Michigan and other states. These voters were a key part of her base in 2008 but are now being targeted by Sanders as well as Trump.
“We have the makings of a broad-based diverse coalition that could not just power her to the nomination but make for a winning coalition in a general election,’’ said Brian Fallon, a Clinton spokesman. “But having said that, I think we have room to grow in certain areas.’’
Clinton herself signaled that she would be more focused on the working-class white voters who have flocked to Trump. At her Miami rally, she vowed to help lift up “struggling Rust Belt communities and small Appalachian towns that have been hollowed out’’ by the loss of jobs and opportunities.
Exit polls by Edison Research on Tuesday night showed that Clinton performed strongly with blacks in Virginia and Hispanics in Texas, the most powerful Democratic forces in those states, and leading with men, women and white voters.
In 2008, by contrast, Clinton did well with white voters and had success in some states with Hispanics, but she repeatedly lost the black vote to Obama and was never able to demonstrate that she could attract a winning coalition of racially and ethnically mixed voters nationwide.
In that 2008 race Obama narrowly beat Clinton in delegates on Super Tuesday, which unfolded in 22 states including New York and New Jersey and featured more caucuses than this year’s contests. Obama did not secure his impregnable 100-delegate lead over Clinton until an 11-state winning streak after Super Tuesday; Clinton, in other words, is better positioned than Obama was to make Super Tuesday a turning point when she solidifies a huge lead over Sanders.
“We’ve always said March was a critical month,’’ said Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist. “You’ve got more than 20 percent of the delegates decided tonight. Tonight was the night when the delegate count will become more paramount and will continue to be what people focus on going forward.’’
Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders, said the campaign stopped polling in Super Tuesday states last week to husband resources because the Sanders team did not need polls to tell them that they were facing a rough patch on Tuesday. He said that campaign advisers would huddle on Wednesday to develop strategy on the most politically advantageous states and areas to spend money in hopes of rebounding in the delegate race.
“Michigan, Washington state, Wisconsin, even New York are good terrain for Bernie’s message and for us to execute our strategy to keep competing,’’ Devine said of the coming contests. “And we have good terrain coming up in Kansas and Nebraska. And I think we have a real, real good shot in Maine,’’ which holds Democratic caucuses this Saturday but has only 30 delegates at stake.
With 11 more states behind them, Clinton advisers say her most urgent — and trickiest — task will not be to tear down Sanders but to show him respect so that his legions of young voters and lower-income white supporters will ultimately embrace her candidacy.
That goal will be met with sustained criticism from the Sanders camp about Clinton’s paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and her reliance on a “super PAC.’’ Next week, Sanders and Clinton will debate each other in Flint, Michigan, and in Miami.
A Clinton aide said that the contests in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina required a pointed and prolonged effort to raise doubts about the effectiveness of Sanders’ proposals but that the wider range of states with primaries and caucuses in March calls for a more general message.
People close to Clinton believe that Sanders’ fundraising prowess will diminish after his losses on Tuesday, preventing him from continuing to challenge her until the convention in July, a possibility that appeared plausible early last month when he raised $8 million in online donations in the 48 hours after his 22-point victory in New Hampshire.