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Bernie Sanders Wins Idaho and Utah, but Still Lags Far Behind Hillary Clinton

Sanders needed these wins in two largely white states, but they won't help him close the gap with Clinton. He's trailing her by around 300 pledged delegates.
March 23, 2016, 10:35am
Photo by Otto Kitsinger/AP

Senator Bernie Sanders secured wins in two of the three states holding caucuses on Tuesday night, taking Idaho and Utah with sweeping victories in the double digits.

The wins in the two largely white states were expected for Sanders, who is also poised to win a majority of contests in western states on Saturday. But Hillary Clinton won Arizona earlier in the evening, by a 57-39 margin, and took roughly 41 delegates on Tuesday, while Sanders walked away from the state with 22.

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Sanders addressed supporters in San Diego, California, following Clinton's victory in Arizona but before either the Idaho or the Utah races were called. Still, the senator, who felt confident going into those two states on Tuesday, sparked a positive note.

"Tonight in Utah, tonight in Idaho, and tonight in Arizona there are record-breaking turnouts in terms of voters," Sanders said. "Now this campaign is doing as well as it is generating the kind of energy and excitement we are seeing here in San Diego and all across this country because we are doing something very unusual in modern American politics: We are telling the truth."

Despite Clinton now holding a lead of some 300 pledged delegates, Sanders has promised to take his fight right through to the Democratic convention.

"These decisive victories in Idaho and Utah give me confidence that we will continue to win major victories in the coming contests," Sanders said in a statement released shortly after the Associated Press projected his wins in those states.

Related: Hillary Clinton Takes Arizona to Widen Delegate Lead over Bernie Sanders

Earlier on Monday night, Sanders told CNN's Anderson Cooper "I am not a quitter."

"We're going to fight this to the last vote," he said. "We're going to give every American the chance to decide which candidate they want to be the Democratic nominee in November."

Even though the wins in Idaho and Utah will provide him with fewer than 35 delegates, the victories will help Sanders to stay in the race after five-straight losses to Clinton last week.

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Utah has a significant Mormon population that usually typically sways Republican in general elections. But ahead of the caucus there, a new Deseret News/KSL poll showed that the state could turn blue for the first time in 50 years come the November elections, if Republican frontrunner Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination.

The survey found that Utahns would rather cast a vote for the Democratic nominee, whether that was Clinton or Sanders, before voting for the billionaire businessman. Sanders showed a significant 48-37 percent lead over Trump among voters in the state in the event of a general election matchup, compared with Clinton's 38-36 percent lead over Trump. Mormons' distaste for Trump could stem from his harsh position on immigration, which clashes with the church's more compassionate stance.

Related: He Skipped AIPAC, but Here's Bernie Sanders' Plan for Peace Between Israel and Palestine

On Monday, Sanders delivered a foreign policy speech in Salt Lake City in lieu of an in-person appearance at a major pro-Israel conference. The speech was the same as the one the senator intended to deliver to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, DC, on Monday, but he skipped the event in favor of campaigning in Tuesday's voting states. In the speech, Sanders outlined his Middle East agenda, and pledged to be friendly toward both Israelis and Palestinians, if elected president, while condemning the continued building of settlements in the West Bank.

Ahead of the caucuses in conservative Idaho, Sanders made several campaign stops across the state and drew thousands to his rallies. In Boise on Monday, the senator asked those in the crowd earning less than $8 an hour to raise their hands, and appeared surprised at the large reaction. He went on to speak about his typical issues like income inequality and universal health care.

"I recognize that Idaho is a conservative state, although it does appear that everyone is not conservative," Sanders told a different crowd of some 3,200 supporters at a rally at an Idaho Falls school Friday.

Sanders and Clinton now head to Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state for Democrat-only elections on Saturday. Sanders is favored in all three states, which he hopes will provide him with some momentum going into the remaining Democratic contests. But Clinton still has a strong delegate lead over her rival, which will be incredibly difficult for the Vermont senator to overcome.

Related: Bernie Sanders Thinks He Can Win the West, but That Probably Won't Be Enough

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields