- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hillary Clinton eked out a narrow win in the Kentucky primary Tuesday, but she continues to limp toward the party convention in July while mired in a two-front war that is draining time, money and energy from her campaign and distracting from the general election fight against presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump.

With only two precincts in the state still outstanding around 10:20 p.m., Mrs. Clinton led Sen. Bernard Sanders by the slightest of margins, 46.7 percent to 46.3 percent — a mere 1,800 votes.

CNN projected Mrs. Clinton the winner around 11:45 p.m. when those precincts reported to the secretary of state’s office and Mrs. Clinton’s grew to about 1,900 votes.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes already had told CNN that Mrs. Clinton was the “unofficial” winner, using that legalistic formulation based on the small number of registered Democrats in those two precincts eligible to vote in the closed primary. 

“I do believe Kentucky will remain in the win column” for Mrs. Clinton, the state’s top elections official said.

Mrs. Clinton was not scheduled to appear publicly Tuesday night, but she claimed victory via social media, tweeting that “We just won Kentucky! Thanks to everyone who turned out. We’re always stronger united.”

In a speech in Carson, California, Mr. Sanders seemed to concede defeat, though he stressed that he and Mrs. Clinton will split delegates in Kentucky.

“In a closed primary, something I am not all that enthusiastic about, where independents are not allowed to vote, where Secretary Clinton defeated Barack Obama by 250,000 votes in 2008, it appears tonight we’re going to end up tonight with about half of the delegates from Kentucky,” the senator said.

Mrs. Clinton’s slight win doesn’t change the fact that she’s been unable to push the Vermont senator out of the race, despite her overwhelming lead in the delegate race. And last week’s loss in the West Virginia primary and Tuesday’s razor-thin result in Kentucky underscore how white, working-class voters in Appalachia and elsewhere simply aren’t warming to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign the way they did in 2008.

Mrs. Clinton also did herself no favors among Appalachian voters with her promise earlier this year to put more coal miners out of work if elected — words she later tried to walk back.

While the Clinton campaign surely would have preferred a greater margin of victory, Tuesday’s win at least halts Mr. Sanders‘ momentum and gives the former first lady another victory in her column.

Later on Tuesday, Mr. Sanders was projected the winner in Oregon’s Democratic primary, leading by a much more decisive margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

As she struggles with Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s inability to close out the Democratic primary isn’t her only problem.

Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers against Mr. Trump have slipped, raising questions about whether she’s best suited to beat the billionaire businessman in November.

An NBC News poll released gave Mrs. Clinton a 3-point advantage over Mr. Trump in a hypothetical November matchup, 48 percent to 45 percent. Another NBC News poll released last week gave her a 5-point lead.

By contrast, Mr. Sanders consistently beats Mr. Trump by double digits, surveys show, fueling his campaign’s contention that he is the Democratic Party’s best hope in the fall.

The Clinton campaign acknowledges that it is engaged in two separate battles, and that both are proving difficult. The campaign has tried to turn its attention to Mr. Trump, but the continued competitiveness of Mr. Sanders has made that virtually impossible.

“Right now, Hillary is the only candidate waging two campaigns, which means we need twice as many resources as Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump,” Clinton campaign finance director Dennis Cheng said in an email to supporters Tuesday. “After Bernie Sanders won in West Virginia, his supporters chipped in $1 million in a single day. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has abandoned his promise to fund his own campaign, and donations are pouring in from wealthy Republicans — they hope to raise $1 billion to hurl vicious attacks against Hillary.”

Mr. Trump also tweaked Mrs. Clinton, suggesting that the close contest in Kentucky proves she is a bad candidate.

“Do you think Crooked Hillary will finally close the deal? If she can’t win Kentucky, she should drop out of race. System rigged!” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday night.

Like the Kentucky contest, the Oregon primary is closed, and only registered Democrats can participate. Closed primaries have tended to favor Mrs. Clinton, while Mr. Sanders has benefited from open primaries by pulling significant numbers of independent voters to his side.

As the Kentucky counting went on into the night, Mr. Sanders was preparing to speak to thousands of supporters in California, where Democrats will vote June 7 and a state that the Sanders campaign hopes to secure a major, race-altering victory.

But even a win in California likely won’t keep Mrs. Clinton from becoming the nominee.

Heading into Tuesday’s contests, Mrs. Clinton held a big lead in the delegate count — a lead that seems to be insurmountable, regardless of how the rest of the party primaries play out.

Among pledged delegates, Mrs. Clinton led Mr. Sanders 1,716 to 1,433. Among superdelegates — party officials free to support either candidate — she holds a massive advantage, 524 to 40.

Sixty delegates are at stake in the Kentucky primary, including five superdelegates, two of whom already have pledged their support to Mrs. Clinton. In Oregon, 74 delegates are on the line, including 13 superdelegates. Six superdelegates already have lined up behind Mrs. Clinton, while one is supporting Mr. Sanders.

The Sanders campaign is trying to woo superdelegates to its side ahead of the party convention in July, but there is no evidence that such a strategy will work as long as Mrs. Clinton retains her lead among pledged delegates.

Victor Morton contributed to this report.

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