Clinton locked up wins in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut, while Sanders claimed Rhode Island.
Clinton’s string of victories Tuesday comes on the heels of a large victory in her adopted home state of New York, where the Sanders campaign had hoped to pull off an upset. After he fell woefully short there, the campaign calendar provided no sanctuary.
Of the five states voting, at least four have appeared for months to lean toward Clinton, and the fifth, Rhode Island, is small enough it cannot alter the delegate math based on her victories elsewhere. At most, Rhode Island provides a bright spot on an otherwise very dark night for the Sanders campaign.
After losing Pennsylvania, Sanders has failed to score a win in a single true general election battleground state. With the commonwealth on her side, Clinton has scored victories in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania — the Holy Trinity of states for Democrats in a general election.
Not since John F. Kennedy in 1960 has a Democrat won the White House without carrying at least two of those three states. In the primaries, Clinton has won all three convincingly, a signal to party insiders of her potentially formidable standing in the fall.
Following the Pennsylvania win, Clinton’s campaign clearly had an eye toward the general election Tuesday night. After a day of campaigning in Indiana, she opted to return to Philadelphia to celebrate Tuesday’s results, rather than try to create momentum in the next state to vote.
Portions of Clinton’s victory speech seemed squarely aimed at a general election audience. She called on Sanders supporters to rally to her candidacy and commended Sanders for giving voice to liberal causes. Clinton repeatedly rattled off core Democratic positions, imploring “we Democrats agree” on much of the party’s agenda.
“I applaud Sen. Sanders and his millions of supporters for challenging us to get unaccountable money out of our politics and giving greater emphasis for closing the gap of inequality,” Clinton said. “And I know together, we will get that done. Whether you support Sen. Sanders or you support me, there’s much more that unites us than divides us.”
Toward the end of the speech, Clinton trained her fire on Republican front-runner Donald Trump, calling him out for accusing her of “playing the woman card.”
“If fighting for women’s healthcare, and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in,” Clinton said.
She also adopted the phrase many Trump detractors have used in rallies against him: “We’re imagining a tomorrow where … love trumps hate” — a not-too-subtle jab at Trump’s outspoken positions on immigration and other issues.
Sanders spoke to supporters from West Virginia shortly after polls closed but before the full breadth of his defeat in the Northeast had become clear. He reprised his call for Democratic superdelegates to the party convention to look past primary results and examine polls he says show he is the candidate best-equipped to take on Republicans in the general election.
“Almost every national poll and every state poll has us up 15, 20 [percentage] points and that margin is significantly larger than Secretary Clinton,” Sanders said. “And the reason we are doing so much better against Republicans is, not only are we winning the overwhelming number of Democratic votes, we are winning independent votes and even some Republican votes.”
The question for Sanders in the wake of Tuesday’s stinging defeats is whether he will tone down his anti-Clinton rhetoric and heed the calls, which almost certainly will become louder, for him to exit the race or at least begin winding down his campaign.
CNN’s delegate count had Clinton leading Sanders by 253 coming into Tuesday’s contests. She could extend that lead by 30 or so delegates depending on final vote counts in individual congressional districts in each of the five states voting.