Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, marking his seventh win out of the last eight contests (including the Democrats Abroad primary) as the Democratic candidates head into the second half of the primary campaign.
With 99.9 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders had racked up a 14-point lead over Clinton in the state on Tuesday night. Sanders leads Clinton with 57-43 percent of the vote.
Wisconsin, with its 86 pledged delegates at stake, proved to be friendly ground for Sanders. The Midwestern state is largely white, with a healthy portion of young voters — roughly 22 percent of registered voters are under 34, according to state records. Wisconsin's open primary, which allows independents and even Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary, also gave Sanders a leg-up in the race against Clinton.
"The corporate media and political establishment keep counting us out, but we keep winning states and doing so by large margins. If we can keep this up, we're going to shock them all and win this nomination," Sanders said in a statement to supporters shortly after news networks called the race.
Sanders, who was campaigning in Wyoming ahead of the state's caucuses on Saturday, began a speech at a rally in the state on Tuesday night by announcing his Wisconsin win.
Sanders told the crowd that at the beginning of his campaign he had been considered a "fringe" candidate, who trailed Clinton by 60-70 points nationally. But now some national polls show him striking within one point of the former secretary of state. (Sanders did not mention that other polls taken in the last few weeks show Clinton with six, 13 and 18 point leads).
"Let me take this opportunity to thank the people of Wisconsin for their strong support," Sanders said to loud applause. "With our victory tonight in Wisconsin we have now won 7 out of 8 of the last caucuses and primaries. And we have won almost all of them with overwhelming landslide numbers."
But even with his win in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, Sanders is unlikely to make much of a dent in Clinton's wide lead in the delegate race to take the Democratic nomination in July.
Polling showed a much tighter race in the days leading up to the Wisconsin primary — though results are still very early. One poll showed Sanders ahead of Clinton by 2 points, while another put Clinton up by 1 point. It all came down to furious campaigning by the candidates, who zigzagged across the Badger State over the last week, holding multiple fundraisers and rallies.
Clinton, who expected a loss in Wisconsin, was not expected to speak on Tuesday night and had no scheduled campaign events. She congratulated Sanders on his victory in a tweet.
At a major Democratic Party dinner in Milwaukee over the weekend, Sanders and Clinton took turns at bashing Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker, taking particular aim at his record on women's reproductive rights, union-busting, and voting rights. Although Walker exited the 2016 presidential race earlier this year, he remains a top enemy for Democratic and progressive voters both within the state and nationally.
Tuesday's election was the first time Wisconsin implemented its strict new voter ID law and cut early voting days, which were shepherded into law by Walker. Civil rights activists warned that the measures could disenfranchise up to 300,000 voters ahead of the primary, many of them students, the elderly, low-income voters, and minorities — all typically Democratically-leaning electorates.
Sanders, who had said before just about every round of voting that if voter turnout is high, he will win the state, was notably peeved.
"I have contempt, absolute contempt, for those Republican governors who do not have the guts to support free, open, and fair elections," Sanders said Saturday at the Democratic Party's Founders Day Dinner in downtown Milwaukee. "If you don't have to guts to participate in a free and fair election, get out of politics and get another job."
Sanders' win in Wisconsin Tuesday night will help him to slightly narrow Clinton's lead in the contest, which currently stands at some 263 pledged delegates. The senator is coming off of victories in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah and Washington over the last two weeks, but those contests netted him just 55 delegates. He'll need much bigger wins going forward to overcome Clinton in the delegate race before the Democratic convention in July.
Still, seven out of eight victories in recent contests represent a coup for the Sanders campaign, which has lately been forced to fend off suggestions its candidate should drop out to allow Clinton a better chance to beat the Republican nominee in a general election. In response, the campaign has pointed to polls showing that the senator would beat Donald Trump in November by a wider margin than Clinton would. Sanders made the same point during his campaign speech in Wyoming on Tuesday night.
And the Sanders team has argued that he has a good chance of winning in two major upcoming contests: New York on April 19 and California on June 7. Both states have large proportion of delegates up for grabs. Sanders told supporters in Wyoming Tuesday night that he believes Clinton is getting "nervous" about New York and that his campaign has an "excellent chance" of winning there.
But Clinton, who represented New York in the US Senate for eight years, currently holds double-digit leads in both New York and California.
After a lengthy back and forth, Clinton and Sanders agreed this week to face off at another Democratic debate in New York on Thursday, April 14, less than a week before the primary.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields
Update: This story has been updated to include Sander's victory night comments in Wyoming and to add the Democrats Abroad primary, which Sanders won on March 22, to the senator's total.