Clinton's Super Tuesday wins narrows Sanders path

- Bernie Sanders' political revolution may be turning into a more modest uprising.

Sanders' insurgent campaign caught fire this fall, drawing huge crowds and raising questions about the breadth of Clinton's appeal within her own party.

But as the contest has expanded past the largely white electorates of Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders has struggled to capture support from the minority voters who make up a large piece of his party. And he's shown no sign of changing his economic-focused message to do so — a strategy that hurt his chances in a swath of primaries held across the country on Tuesday.

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After her wins on Super Tuesday, Clinton is nearly halfway to claiming enough delegates to win the nomination, when you include her superdelegates, the party insiders free to pick either candidate. If she keeps her superdelegates — they can change their minds — Clinton has to win only 41 percent of the remaining delegates to be the presumptive nominee.

Sanders' road is much tougher. He would have to win 59 percent of the remaining delegates — including superdelegates — to claim the nomination. So far, he is winning just 28 percent.

On Tuesday, Clinton carried the four largest contested states in terms of delegates — Texas, Georgia, Virginia and Massachusetts — giving her a big delegate haul that expands her advantage over Sanders. She won sweeping victories across the South and her narrow victory in Massachusetts denied the Vermont senator of a large state he had sought near his home turf.

"Hillary has shown real strength in the Super Tuesday voting, establishing an impressive foundation going forward in the delegate race," said Jeff Berman, Clinton's delegate guru.

Beyond Vermont, Sanders' wins came in Minnesota, Colorado and Oklahoma, where working-class white voters play a bigger role in Democratic contests.

The Democratic contests award delegates in proportion to the vote, meaning that even the loser wins some delegates.

With 865 delegates at stake, Clinton is assured of gaining at least 490 for Super Tuesday, having won seven states and the American Samoa. Her double-digit wins in delegate rich states in the South were able to overcome Sanders, who won four states. He picks up at least 323 delegates.

RELATED: How did Clinton do in Georgia?

The former secretary of state's team argues that once Sanders loses the delegate lead, it becomes very difficult to regain control of the race because delegates are awarded proportionally. By March 15, nearly half of the Democratic delegates will have been awarded, giving Clinton a chance to build a large enough lead to make it nearly impossible for Sanders to capture the nomination.

"We have no doubt that as long as Sen. Sanders remains in the primary, he will continue to win elections along the way, but it will make little difference to Hillary's pledged delegate lead," wrote campaign manager Robby Mook, in a memo released Wednesday morning. "In order to catch up, Sen. Sanders doesn't just have to start winning a few states, but he needs to start winning everywhere and by large margins."

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Sanders and his team showed no signs of exiting the race, with senior strategist Tad Devine saying he sees no scenario where Sanders gets out before the party convention in July. And Sanders has little financial incentive to end his campaign, which reported raising more than $42 million in February — $12 million more than Clinton and enough to keep going well into the spring. Clinton aides believe any effort to push Sanders out of the contest could backfire with his liberal base, who's support they'll need in the general election.

"We are going to be in this thing for the long run," said Devine. "We will pick states and we will have fights and if we win enough of them, we believe he will be the nominee."

But there is a historical precedent for Clinton's argument: In 2008, then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama used a post-Super Tuesday winning streak to set up a 100 delegate lead that Clinton never could surmount.

With that defeat still fresh in her mind, Clinton moved quickly to hire Obama's team to run her delegate operation. Their plan was to use a big win on South Carolina as a springboard into the Super Tuesday contest, where they'd establish a sizeable enough advantage to push Sanders out of the race.

Exit polls showed Clinton backed by at least of 80 percent of black voters in the Southern states — a key demographic.

While she made inroads with voters between the ages of 30 and 44, but her strong showing among older and minority voters looks like it will be sufficient to out maneuver Sanders in the primary, who's staked his campaign on increasing turnout among white working class voters.

Sanders aides are looking ahead to caucuses in Kansas and Nebraska on Saturday and Maine's caucuses on Sunday, hoping that liberal voters in the mostly white states will bolster the senator's cause. Clinton is expected to fare well in Saturday's Louisiana primary, helped by the state's black voters.

His campaign is also planning a major push in Michigan, where Clinton and Sanders will attend a debate on Sunday in Flint and then compete in the state's primary two days later. Campaign manager Jeff Weaver said the campaign would point to the plight of middle-class workers and "job-crushing trade deals that Secretary Clinton has consistently supported over the years."

Down the road, they are looking at California and New York as places where Sanders can add to his delegate total.

But they also acknowledge that the path forward won't be easy.

"She has a substantial advantage," said Devine at a meeting with reporters on Wednesday morning. "We believe that we can make that up between now and June."

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