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Sanders wins Indiana, but Clinton looks to November

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Bernie Sanders was declared the winner of the Indiana primary Tuesday, but Hillary Clinton was already looking ahead to the general election, and Sanders' victory was not enough to change her trajectory toward the Democratic nomination.

Sanders, a Vermont senator, insists his goal remains to win the party's presidential nomination, even if it appears to be mathematically out of reach. Democrats distribute delegates proportionately in all states, so the only way for Sanders to close Clinton's delegate lead is to win all future contests by huge margins and convince many superdelegates — party leaders and elected officials free to support either candidate — to switch their votes to him, even in states Clinton won.

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Speaking in Louisville on Tuesday night, Sanders said, "in primary after primary, caucus after caucus, we end up winning the vote of people 45 years of age and younger," proving that "the ideas that we are fighting for are the ideas of the future of America and the future of the Democratic party." His campaign, he said "is a political revolution."

But Clinton was looking past him.

"I'm really focused on moving into the general election ... We're going to have a tough campaign," Clinton said during an interview with MSNBC Tuesday. After Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out of the GOP race Tuesday night, Clinton's campaign released a statement from chairman John Podesta focused only on Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican nominee. "Throughout this campaign, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he's too divisive and lacks the temperament to lead our nation and the free world," he wrote. "While Donald Trump seeks to bully and divide Americans, Hillary Clinton will unite us to create an economy that works for everyone."

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders
Scott Eisen | Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders

In a swing through West Virginia and eastern Ohio Tuesday, Clinton campaigned as the presumptive nominee. During a stop at a diner in Athens, Ohio, with Sen. Sherrod Brown, she said the Indiana race had been "a great campaign, and we'll see how it goes."

Clinton's aim in the two-day Appalachian trip is to begin outreach to underserved communities that may be ground zero for Donald Trump's attempts to build a bigger Republican coalition.

However, she is facing questions about a remark she made during a March town hall on CNN when she said she would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

She was asked during the MSNBC interview about an encounter she'd had the day before with Bo Copley, a former coal employee who lost his job, who pressed her on the coal comment and the impact the coal industry had on his family.

She said she was "honored" that he'd been "so open and honest, emotionally" in explaining his experience in the coal business.

"I think we've got to move both toward a clean energy future. ... But we also have to remember who turned on the lights and powered the factories and provided the energy we needed to build our country," she added.

West Virginia is a solid Republican state, and is trending more so in recent cycles.

"She knows the politics of West Virginia," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who joined her at a substance abuse forum. "But it didn't stop her from caring" and traveling to the state, he said.

Sanders, meanwhile, held events in Kentucky on Tuesday, which holds its Democratic primary on May 17, and scheduled events Wednesday in West Virginia, which votes May 10.

Another reason it makes sense for Sanders to continue his uphill battle is that every delegate he acquires strengthens his hand at the Democratic convention in July in Philadelphia.

His priorities are becoming increasingly clear: an emphasis on changing the campaign finance system and the role of superdelegates in the Democratic nominating system. Sanders has already declared victory for pushing Clinton to the left on trade and other issues.

Party leaders serving as superdelegates have traditionally cast their votes for the candidate with the most pledged delegates who is leading in the popular vote, helping to put them over the top.

But Sanders is insisting, including in a Sunday news conference, that superdelegates representing states he won should back him instead of Clinton, with the aim of forcing a contested convention. He's also sought to appeal to them by citing national polls showing he beats Republican Trump by a wider margin than Clinton does.

"The evidence is extremely clear that I would be the stronger candidate to defeat Donald Trump," Sanders said on Sunday.

The Vermont senator is hunkering down for a fight all the way to the convention, even as his campaign's fundraising juggernaut is showing signs of slowing. Sanders reported $25.8 million in contributions from April, about $20 million less than the $46 million he posted in March.

Clinton had a lead of more than 300 pledged delegates entering Tuesday's contest, and the two candidates will basically split Indiana's 83 Democratic delegates. She also has the support of an estimated 520 superdelegates, according to the Associated Press, including many who committed before their states cast votes. Sanders has only won the backing of 39 superdelegates.

Contributing: Paul Singer