LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky voters pick their favored candidate for president on Tuesday, and Hillary Clinton is making a big, final push for their support. But rival Bernie Sanders hopes to add Kentucky to his string of wins and further delay Clinton’s clinching the Democratic presidential nomination.
Big-name surrogates have been sent, television ads are playing and Clinton is touring the state in advance of Tuesday’s voting. On Sunday, the former secretary of state dropped in at Louisville churches and held rallies in Louisville and Fort Mitchell. Sanders on Sunday made a swing through Kentucky as well.
“We need a president who will work every single day to make life better for American families,” Clinton said at a union training center in Louisville. “We want somebody who can protect us and work with the rest of the world. Not talk about building walls, but building bridges.”
While Clinton leads Sanders by nearly 300 pledged delegates going into Tuesday’s primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, the Vermont senator continues to win contests and has pledged to stay in the race until the July convention. With Donald Trump set as the presumptive Republican nominee, those on Clinton’s team would like to turn their attention to the general election contest, but they still can’t fully make that shift.
A win in at least one of the two upcoming contests would give Clinton momentum heading into the primaries in California and New Jersey in early June. Oregon is favorable terrain for Sanders, but Clinton’s campaign thinks the race is competitive in Kentucky, where she planned to spend Monday courting voters.
“It will be close, but either way, as with all the contests this month, we will gain additional delegates and move that much closer to clinching the nomination,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in an email.
Clinton easily won the Kentucky primary over Barack Obama in 2008. But this time she has come under criticism in parts of the state after saying in March that “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Clinton later said she misspoke, but the comment has drawn fire in mining communities.
On Sunday in Louisville and in Fort Mitchell, Clinton touted her plan for coal country. Her proposals include protecting miners’ health care coverage and retirement programs, investing in infrastructure in mining communities and repurposing mines.
Before a cheering crowd in a Fort Mitchell backyard, Clinton pledged to put husband Bill Clinton — who won the state in 1992 and 1996 —”in charge of revitalizing the economy.” She provided no further details, but during Bill Clinton’s administration, economic growth averaged 4 percent per year, median family income rose and the budget deficit was turned into a surplus.
Clinton said that when people feel left behind, they “become very interested in easy answers and the kind of demagoguery we’ve seen in this election.”
Clinton only briefly mentioned Sanders at both events, repeating a critique that he did not vote to fund the auto industry bailout. Sanders has accused Clinton of mischaracterizing his record on the issue.
Clinton focused most of her fire on Trump, calling him a “loose cannon.” She said his record will “be a big part of the general election, because Americans, regardless of our political affiliation have to really take this vote seriously.”
High-profile advocates campaigning for Clinton in Kentucky include Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Hakeem Jeffries and Joe Crowley of New York.
Clinton is spending about $325,000 on Kentucky ads. Sanders, after seeing her reserve airtime, followed with $126,000 in ads, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.
Going into Tuesday, Clinton has 1,716 pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses, compared with 1,433 for Sanders. Adding superdelegates, or party officials who can back any candidate, Clinton holds a much wider lead. She remains on track to reach the 2,383 needed to win the nomination by early next month.
Clinton and her supporters have avoided calling on Sanders to drop out of the race. But they worry that Sanders could damage her chances by staying put. The Vermont senator’s economic hits on Clinton could benefit Trump, as he seeks to appeal to independent voters. In addition, Clinton cannot start wooing Sanders supporters until he is out of the way and she must continue campaigning in primary states, rather than general-election battlegrounds.
A Trump adviser told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the campaign was hoping to appeal to Sanders supporters in the general election.
“You see Democrat support for Bernie Sanders that is potential Trump support, when it’s indicated that they will never vote for Hillary Clinton, and when you analyze who those people are that are saying it, they’re the very demographic that Trump is appealing to in independents and crossover Democrats,” Paul Manafort said.
In the audience for Clinton at the Louisville rally Sunday was local resident Nancy Hatcher, 69, who said she liked Clinton’s experience, though said she wasn’t sure if she could win in Kentucky.
“I don’t know,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that are in love with Bernie Sanders, but I don’t think he is electable and she is.”
Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.