Hillary Clinton is winning the Democratic presidential nominating by essentially promising to extend Barack Obama’s legacy.
But it’s unclear whether that message will work in a general election where angry voters across the nation have rejected the status quo.
Voters in both parties say they are fed up with lawmakers in Washington, stagnant wages, companies sending jobs overseas and terrorists threats.
They have fueled the popularity of Donald Trump, the brash businessman turned reality TV star on the Republican side, and Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who promises to start a political revolution on the Democratic side.
“There is great anger, believe me. There is great anger,” Trump said in his victory speech in Florida late Tuesday.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said, “Sanders and Trump represent a threat to the existing order on both sides.”
Clinton’s wins Tuesday, including North Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, further solidified her virtually insurmountable lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. She is running close in two other states, Illinois and Missouri.
In her victory speech Tuesday in Florida, Clinton praised Obama for his work before pivoting to Trump, using one of his lines to criticize him without saying his name.
“You know, to be great, we can’t be small,” she said. “We can’t lose what made America great in the first place.”
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Sanders plans to stay in the race despite huge losses — especially in Southern states with large minority populations — and an improbable ability to catch up with Clinton’s lead in delegates.
Clinton has won 16 states, compared with a possible 10 for Sanders, if he wins Missouri. But he has been buoyed by a come-from-behind win last week in Michigan as well as a smattering of other states, where he has been popular with young and financially struggling voters.
He received delegates even in states he lost because Democrats award them proportionally. Clinton retains a massive advantage among superdelegates, Democratic leaders who can back any candidate regardless of how their states vote.
A Clinton-Trump general election seems more likely as Trump won Tuesday in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina.
Clinton has portrayed herself as a pragmatic leader who would build on Obama’s legacy and work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done in a town where little gets done.
She has embraced Obama, defending him on the Affordable Care Act and endorsing his overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system. She accused Sanders of calling Obama “weak” and “disappointing” and even said he’d tried to find a primary opponent for Obama in 2012.
“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” she says repeatedly.
In Ohio, 49 percent of primary voters said they wanted to continue Obama’s policies, according to preliminary exit polls. Of those, 71 percent supported Clinton.
In North Carolina, 81 percent of primary voters said the nominee should have experience in politics, according to preliminary exit polls. Sixty percent of them voted for Clinton.
But Clinton has had a surprisingly tough fight for the nomination from Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who has successfully drawn on anger building in the country for the so-called billionaire class. He continues to receive millions of dollars in small, largely online, donations and to draw thousands of enthusiastic supporters to his rallies.
Sanders won independents as well as those who wanted a candidate outside the establishment or are worried about the economy, according to preliminary exit polls.
Tom Davis, a former long-term Republican congressman in Virginia who sits on the board of No Labels, which strives to find common ground in Washington, said that unlike Sanders, Clinton was running on her résumé but not a message. “He has a message, like it or not,” he said. Davis predicts that some Sanders supporters may eventually support Trump.
Roughly 4 in 10 Republican voters said they were angry, according to preliminary exit polls in the five contests Tuesday.
Sanders won Michigan by tapping into angst over trade, manufacturing and the overall economic outlook, primarily for lower-income workers in industrial Midwestern states.
As she has seen voters’ frustrations grow in her own party, Clinton has adopted Sanders’ message and even his language sometimes when speaking about income equality, and in opposing a large Pacific trade agreement that she once called the gold standard.
“Hillary Clinton won Ohio and had a Super Tuesday by riding the economic populist tide instead of fighting it,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Clinton has engaged Bernie Sanders in a race to the top on key issues like expanding Social Security instead of cutting it, breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, jailing Wall Street executives who break the law, and debt-free college. That was almost unimaginable a year ago.”
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last November found deep frustration, with nearly 7 in 10 Americans agreeing they were angry that the political system “seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington.”