Tuesday’s photo finish in the Kentucky Democratic primary sends the 2016 race to the next phase without really changing the game, with Hillary Clinton as the apparent victor.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told CNN that based on outstanding votes, “Hillary Clinton will be the unofficial nominee” for the state of Kentucky.
Commonwealth Democrats effectively split between the former secretary of state and Bernie Sanders, with Clinton leading by the narrowest of margins late into the night.
“We just won Kentucky!” Clinton tweeted, thanking supporters.
The returns showed Clinton with 46.7 percent to Sanders’ 46.3 percent of the more than 450,000 votes cast, according to Grimes’ office.
Clinton’s campaign needed a win badly — even a very close one — following two-straight losses and Oregon, as expected, going for the resilient Sanders, also on Tuesday.
The next and final Democratic primary battles take place the first week of June.
Kentucky has changed mightily since President Bill Clinton carried the state in both 1992 and 1996, with the electorate moving to the right even as registration has continued to show large populations of Democrats in the state’s coal country.
Regardless of which candidate prevailed, the result was never going to make much difference in terms of the broader delegate math, where Sanders remains well behind. He stood to out gain Clinton by only a handful of delegates after all the votes were counted on Tuesday.
Both Clintons could be found crisscrossing Kentucky in recent weeks, with Sanders also swinging through the state’s larger cities for large rallies. As she did in neighboring West Virginia, the former first lady who is on the 2016 ballot held several intimate events along with a full day of get-out-the-vote events on Monday.
Clinton had the visible backing of members of the Kentucky Democratic establishment, including former Gov. Steven L. Beshear and Grimes.
During the 2014 cycle, Grimes challenged current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., losing by a large margin despite having the Clintons make repeated campaign appearances for her and seeking to create distance with President Barack Obama.
Grimes was in the audience at Clinton’s event in Ashland on May 2, where the presidential front runner met with steelworkers who had lost their jobs.
Among the late stops were visits by Sanders and Clinton to Bowling Green, the hometown of the state’s junior senator, Rand Paul.
The GOP did not have a primary contest for president Tuesday in Kentucky because they held a caucus earlier this year that was designed to accommodate Paul’s presidential aspirations, which turned out to be short-lived.
Paul did prevail in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, with Lexington Mayor Jim Gray doing likewise on the Democratic side, setting up the expected general election match up.
“It’s high time we consider what is best for Kentucky. It’s high time we put Kentucky first,” said Paul. “Tonight I pledge to keep up the fight for balanced budgets, and American jobs, and an end to the War on Coal.”
Elsewhere down the ballot, former Agriculture Commissioner James R. Comer was announced by the Associated Press as the victor in the state’s First District, which is a seat rated Safe Republican by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. The seat is coming open with the pending retirement of GOP Rep. Edward Whitfield.
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On the presidential side, the Clinton victory in Kentucky should act to blunt the momentum for Sanders, who had been on a bit of a roll at the polls, although the Clinton campaign’s organizing effort in Nevada ensured her a delegate victory there over the weekend that led to a dispute between Sanders supporters and the state party.
Clinton’s margin jumped once results from Lexington came in after what was described by CNN as an issue with a machine there.
“I think younger people who are excited about Bernie Sanders, I think in the end when they look at the fall, I think they’ll be convinced – because there’s such a stark contrast here – about who ought to be President of the United States,” the former governor said.