The night Hillary Clinton regained her inevitability
MIAMI, Fla. - Hillary Clinton entered this presidential campaign last April as an overwhelming frontrunner and inevitable Democratic nominee. Tonight, she regained that status.
There was a lot of cheering at Clinton's primary night party as results from the 12 states and territories that voted on Tuesday began to flash on the screen. Polls had indicated Clinton would do well today, and there were no surprises.
Following her huge win in South Carolina's Democratic primary on Saturday, Clinton's strong showing in the Super Tuesday races today has allowed her to pull substantially ahead of her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. As the night progressed, she was declared victor in the delegate-rich states of Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and Massachusetts. Sanders won his home state of Vermont right off the bat - and later Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota - and gave an early evening speech before calling it a night. Though Clinton and her allies aren't declaring victory just yet, it is clear they believe the writing is on the wall for Sanders.
Tuesday's balloting kicked off a streak of primaries this month, and Sanders' campaign reportedly views March 15 as a decisive moment in the fight for the Democratic nomination. A Clinton campaign source who spoke to Yahoo News at her primary night party here on Tuesday indicated that the campaign also sees March 15 as a turning point - and that it expects the night will be a good one for them.
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"By mid-March, our lead will be large enough that it will be effectively insurmountable - [it] won't be mathematically impossible - but it will be effectively insurmountable," the Clinton source said.
In her victory speech, Clinton congratulated Sanders on his "strong showing and campaign." She then emphasized her own forward trajectory.
"Now this campaign moves forward to the Crescent City, the Motor City and beyond," Clinton said.
Since her win in South Carolina, Clinton has increasingly shifted her focus to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Her Tuesday night speech included jabs at Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, which Clinton has been deploying on the campaign trail in recent days.
"America never stopped being great," Clinton said. "We have to make America whole."
It was easy to forget in the wake of Sanders' surge in the early-voting states, but this is how the race was always supposed to be for Clinton.
With her years of experience as a former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, Clinton began this race almost as more of an incumbent than a White House hopeful. This time last year, polls showed Clinton with a lead that was, on average, more than 40 points ahead of all her likely rivals. But then America - and the Clinton campaign along with it - began to Feel the Bern.
Sanders' numbers climbed, and he started the primaries by nearly tying Clinton in Iowa and defeating her soundly in New Hampshire. Clinton was expected to have a "firewall" of support that would block Berniementum in the next two states on the calendar, Nevada and South Carolina. But as the Feb. 20 Nevada caucus approached, Sanders was closing the gap, and Clinton's firewall seemed in danger of being breached.
Then Clinton ended up winning Nevada by five points, and South Carolina brought her an even stronger victory than she expected. She came into Super Tuesday with momentum on her side, and with her strong performance this evening, her allies don't expect the race to shift again.
Former Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., was in attendance at Clinton's primary night party and, even before any results were in, predicted that the night would be the beginning of a surge that would propel Clinton past Sanders.
"I think this is a continuing momentum is what it is... The 12 states and territories that are going today, assuming she does well in many of the areas, I think it will just build a continued ball of steam," Klein said.
At one point, as the results were coming in, jubilant supporters waiting at the party to watch Clinton speak began chanting, "I believe that she will win! I believe that she will win!" Indeed, all the supporters who spoke with Yahoo News expressed confidence in Clinton's chances. However, like the campaign, most of Clinton's supporters aren't ready to say the race is over just yet.
Michael Lefevre, a 26-year-old transportation planner from nearby Coral Gables, Fla., said he is eager for Clinton to take on Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
"I'm tired of it. I can't believe it's just a primary. I'm ready for the real thing," Lefevre said.
Still, in spite of his eagerness, Lefevre doesn't think the primary is finished.
"I think today's the day where you really start to see them separate," he said.
Cindy Lerner, the mayor of Pinecrest, Fla., similarly said that the Democratic race is winding down.
"It will be close. I don't know that it will be over," Lerner said. "It looks like everybody's doing their best to prolong their opportunities to be involved, and that's OK to me."
Though she was optimistic about Clinton's chances, Lerner sounded one cautionary note. Lerner was a pledged delegate for Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary. After Clinton was defeated by Barack Obama in a hard-fought race, Lerner was somewhat reluctant to switch sides. The experience makes Lerner concerned that Sanders' supporters might not all be able to unite behind Clinton in the general election.
"I was one of those people that was so heartbroken that she stepped aside," Lerner said of Clinton in 2008. "I was supposed to go to the national convention. I didn't want to go. ... A lot of us went through a lot of angst about it. I hope that doesn't happen this time."
April Hardemon, a Miami police officer who was at Clinton's primary night party, said she has no such worries. She said there's no question in her mind that the fight for the Democratic nomination ended Tuesday night.
"I'm very confident in Hillary Clinton," Hardemon said, adding, "She's going to take it."