Clinton’s tricky task now: Can she ignore Sanders?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, at Munster Steel in Hammond, Ind.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, at Munster Steel in Hammond, Ind. AP

Hillary Clinton needs to start doing something now that may prove difficult for her – ignoring Bernie Sanders.

Clinton, edging closer to securing the Democratic presidential nomination after winning 4 of 5 states on Tuesday – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania – must move past what has been a surprisingly contentious primary to the general election. But that could prove to be tough for the driven politician.

“She is competitive; there’s no doubt about that,” said Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who’s close to Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Fowler said Clinton doesn’t have as much of a tendency as her husband to embrace people who are not “natural allies.”

After her landslide win in New York, Clinton began talking less about the differences between her and her persistent primary opponent and more about Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This week, she dropped Sanders from her speeches altogether.

But when asked about Sanders at a televised town hall meeting Monday night, Clinton criticized his policies and his performance in a recent editorial board meeting and then went out of her way to set the record straight on primary results.

“Let's look where we are right now,” Clinton said on MSNBC. “I've got 10.4 million votes. I have 2.7 million more folks, real people, showing up to cast their vote, to express their opinion than Senator Sanders ... I am winning.”

Sanders won Rhode Island, the only state Tuesday that allowed independents – many of whom favor him – to vote in the Democratic primary.

At her victory party Tuesday, Clinton finally gave the conciliatory speech many had been hoping to hear the past few weeks. She bashed Trump but she also applauded Sanders and his supporters for bringing issues of unaccountable money and income inequality to the forefront.

“Whether you support Senator Sanders or you support me, there is much more than unites us than divides us,” she said.

For his part, Sanders didn’t talk about Clinton or dropping out of the race. Instead, he urged Democratic leaders who are not bound by how their states voted to consider supporting him because polls show he would beat Trump in a general election – and by wider margins than Clinton would.

“The reason we are doing so much better against the Republican candidate is not only are we winning the overwhelming majority of Democratic votes, but we are winning independent votes and some Republican votes as well," he said at a campaign rally in West Virginia.

The question right now isn't whether the movement behind Bernie Sanders is going to continue winning delegates and states in the weeks ahead, it's whether the Democratic establishment is going to bring our party together by embracing our fight for a political revolution or tell us to sit down, shut up and fall in line

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of liberal group Democracy for America

Clinton, now all but assured she will win the nomination, has missed other possible opportunities to reach out in order to begin uniting the Democratic Party. On Monday, she said Sanders should convince his supporters to back her, just as she convinced her supporters to back nominee Barack Obama after she lost the nomination in 2008.

“That is what I think one does,” she said. “That is certainly what I did and I hope that we will see the same this year.”

Sanders isn’t making it easy.

In recent weeks, he has become increasingly negative – questioning Clinton’s qualifications and judgment, in addition to her policies. He has also said she should try to win over his supporters and him by incorporating a progressive agenda like his into her campaign.

It is incumbent upon her to tell millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests. She has got to go out to you

Bernie Sanders

Clinton has been aggressively responding to Sanders’ attacks for weeks now. She has attacked Sanders on immigration and gun control, and she has accused him of flailing on the campaign trail in New York after he struggled to explain how he would break up big banks in an interview with the New York Daily News.

Political observers say Clinton has to resist the urge to respond to every accusation Sanders makes about her. “Her urge is not to let an attack go unanswered,” said Texas Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “Clinton doesn’t have it in her DNA to ignore an attack.”

The former secretary of state has amassed a virtually insurmountable lead in the race for the Democratic nomination against the independent senator from Vermont. Clinton’s aides have long expected her to expand her lead in delegates so much by next Tuesday that Sanders would not be able to catch up in the primary contest.

Her staff is beginning to organize in fall battleground states. Her volunteers are starting to reach out to supporters and donors of Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. Her aides are considering possible running mates.

But she continues to show vulnerability with certain groups of voters whom she will need in the general election, including young voters, in a surprisingly competitive contest where she has often failed to capture the same enthusiasm as her rival, the self-proclaimed champion of the working class.

“It’s close enough and he has enough supporters so I see why he’s staying in,” said Amy Hopkins, 22, a domestic violence activist and Clinton supporter from Newark, Delaware. “I believe in her so much that I think she’s going to pull through.”

Sanders has said he plans to stay in the race until the convention in July. But Clinton could amass enough delegates to clinch the nomination even if she loses the remaining state contests, according to the Associated Press. She is likely to get the needed number of delegates sometime in May, weeks before the final contests in June.

I want him to stay him involved. I hope he does. I think his perspective and passion is needed for the country

Anthony Calabria, a scientist from Wilmington who supports Clinton

Clinton, who stayed in the 2008 race against Obama until the month of June, has been careful not to suggest when Sanders should drop out of the race, and in recent interviews her supporters have said they don’t mind that the primary is continuing.

“I don’t think he should drop out,” said Chris Murphy, 48, a horse farmer from Hockessin, Delaware, who supports Clinton. “I think he is doing what he really believes is right for the country, and he’s got every right to do that.”

Hillary Clinton is currently leading Bernie Sanders in delegates. But should she achieve the nomination, how many of Sanders' voters will still vote for her?