Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, is fighting to prevent another loss to rival Bernie Sanders entering Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in Kentucky and Oregon.
Clinton has focused the bulk of her campaigning in Kentucky, which she won against Barack Obama during the 2008 primary, but also where she’s had to work aggressively in the past week to contain mounting criticism from coal miners, concerned that her renewable energy plan will put them out of work.
In the past week, while Clinton has barnstormed Kentucky, she has kept away from Oregon, which political experts have regarded as favorable terrain for Sanders, who has won in states with similar voting demographics of liberal-leaning and largely white Democrats.
Meanwhile, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is expected to easily collect the 28 delegates up for grabs in Oregon’s Republican primary as he closes in on the 1,237 delegates required to lock in the nomination.
Clinton remains on pace to win the Democratic nomination, having amassed 2,240 of the 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination. But her campaign is still working to avoid a repeat of last week’s loss to Sanders in West Virginia’s primary.
Sanders’ victory there was driven in large part by backlash over remarks Clinton made in March that she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” in favor of renewable energy sources.
In the past week, Clinton has assured coal workers at rallies that she misspoke, and she feels “such a sense of obligation” to ensure they find jobs, even as she pushes for expanding the nation’s clean energy industry.
“We can’t and we must not walk away from them,” Clinton said at a rally in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, on Sunday, where she unveiled plans to protect miners’ health care coverage and retirement programs.
Stephen Voss, an associate political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said that a month ago, he would have predicted Clinton would easily win the state, but her loss in West Virginia has led to questions about whether rural voters in neighboring eastern Kentucky will vote similarly.
“Everything appears to favor Clinton, but given the way people voted in West Virginia, there is this big, glaring question mark,” Voss said.
Voss said Clinton’s bid in Kentucky is aided by her popularity among black voters in Louisville and the Clinton family’s longtime political ties to state Democratic leaders, dating to former President Bill Clinton’s time as governor of Arkansas.
In Oregon, Clinton holds a 15-point lead in the latest state poll, but it’s “too early to call” the race, said Joseph Lowndes, a political science professor at the University of Oregon, citing widespread grass roots support for Sanders.
Lowndes said political observers are “puzzled” by Clinton’s polling lead, given that the state’s Democrats “tend to be more left-leaning,” and Clinton has not campaigned in the state, while Sanders has drawn thousands to rallies in Eugene and Salem.
“We’re kind of in a confusing moment,” Lowndes said. “It looks like Clinton is ahead, which has surprised a lot of people. Oregon is a reform-minded state, where Democrats are more likely to be Sanders supporters . . . but it’s a closed primary, and so far Clinton has won all the closed primaries.”
Lowndes said Clinton’s polling edge perhaps reflects voters “feeling like the math is not behind Sanders at this time” to win the nomination.
Sanders, whose campaign launched a massive effort to register supporters ahead of the primary, told reporters on Sunday “if voter turnout is high, we will win.”
Entering Oregon’s primary, Trump is 103 delegates short of the 1,237 threshold required to guarantee the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in July.
Oregon will add 28 delegates to Trump’s total, setting him up to cross the threshold in the final swing of state contests on June 7 that includes California and New Jersey.
Trump was already a popular figure in the state before Ted Cruz and John Kasich dropped out of the race, Lowndes said. The real estate mogul’s talks of renegotiating the nation’s free trade agreements has been welcomed by many rural workers who have lost their jobs in the timber industry, he said.
“The Trump supporters here are working-class people,” Lowndes said. “What resonates with them is Trump’s talk of class politics. These are people who feel they have been screwed and forgotten by Republican elites.”