- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s shift to general election mode could hit yet another speed bump Tuesday in Wisconsin, where polls show Sen. Bernard Sanders in front as the progressive enthusiasm around his candidacy, and the impressive fundraising hauls that enable him to keep fighting, show little sign of drying up.

While Mrs. Clinton will emerge from Wisconsin with her delegate lead intact — due to the party’s system of awarding delegates proportionally — the contest could serve as yet another reminder that she remains unable to fully dispatch Mr. Sanders and turn all of her fire on potential Republican opponents. Perhaps even more distressing than Mr. Sanders‘ lead in recent Wisconsin polls, surveys also have shown the Vermont senator closing the gap in New York, the state Mrs. Clinton represented for eight years in the U.S. Senate.

Her lead in the Empire State, once more than 20 points, is now down to 11, according to Real Clear Politics averages.

Mrs. Clinton also is lagging far behind Mr. Sanders in fundraising, and the senator’s ability to rake in millions of dollars, mostly from individual donors, gives him all the justification he needs to remain in the race, analysts say.

The Sanders campaign raised $44 million in March, an all-time high. Mrs. Clinton raised $29.5 million, the campaign reported.

“The biggest thing that is keeping Sanders in the race is his continuing fundraising prowess. He raised $44 million in March, and this allows him to keep campaigning and put pressure on Clinton not to shift too much to the middle,” said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Before he exits the race, he wants to make sure she incorporates progressive ideas into the party platform and continues to talk about income inequality. As long as he brings in money at a brisk pace, there is little incentive for him to stop aside. The presidential campaign gives him a platform for his ideas and helps the progressive community pressure her to take its issues seriously.”

As the money keeps pouring in, Mr. Sanders may come away with a win in Wisconsin on Tuesday. A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday showed the senator leading Mrs. Clinton 49 percent to 47 percent.

Despite the close margin, Mrs. Clinton has all but abandoned the state. She campaigned in New York City on Monday and used her campaign event to praise Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators for raising New York’s minimum wage to $15.

But with poll numbers in New York tightening, Mrs. Clinton on Monday stopped short of guaranteeing a win in the state. She did, however, virtually promise she’ll be the party’s nominee.

“Oh, I’m absolutely confident I will be the nominee,” she said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” program. “Now I’m going to do everything I can to win New York. I represented New York for eight years, I care deeply about this state. I’m proud of the work that I did with so many thousands of New Yorkers, so of course I’m going to work incredibly hard.”

In addition, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns reached an agreement Monday, after days of negotiations and public back and forth, to a debate in New York next week. The debate is scheduled for April 14 in Brooklyn, less than a week before New Yorkers head for the polls on April 19.

A month ago surveys showed her leading in New York by more than 20 points. The tightening race is eerily reminiscent of other states such as Michigan, in which Mrs. Clinton once held big leads, only to watch them disappear by Election Day.

Specialists say New York has become something of a firewall for the Clinton campaign. Should she lose Wisconsin, the former first lady would desperately need a big win in New York to stop Mr. Sanders from claiming all the momentum in the race and potentially wooing Democratic superdelegates to his side, according to Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at New York’s Marist College.

“They want New York to be theirs,” Mr. Miringoff said of the Clinton campaign. “New York often goes for the more progressive candidate in a primary. There’s a Sanders feeling here that they have to deal with, and they’re worried about it New York is probably the worst bad thing on the horizon for her.”

The very real possibility of a win in Wisconsin, and the relatively close race in New York, allow the Sanders campaign to maintain its strong fundraising push.

“The political establishment and corporate media have counted us out time and time again in this race. He should not make the same mistake with a campaign as formidable and well-funded as Hillary Clinton’s in Wisconsin,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in an email to supporters. “We are on the verge of making history tomorrow night, but doing so will require us to work hard for every last vote up until the minute the polls close. That’s why your contribution matters so much.”

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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