Clinton close to nomination prize; Trump strengthens hand

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Hillary Clinton, the nearly unstoppable Democrat, and Republican front-runner Donald Trump accelerated Wednesday toward Northeast primaries on an increasingly direct path to presidential nominations after trouncing party challengers in New York.

Clinton, now 81 percent of the way toward clinching the Democratic nomination that eluded her eight years ago, can lose every remaining contest and still prevail. Her sweeping victory in the New York primary called into question the durability of Bernie Sanders’ rival campaign and left him with severely limited options for overtaking her.

While Trump strengthened his hand, he is still far from in the clear.

Trump is focused heavily on clinching the Republican nomination through voters’ balloting in state primaries, thus avoiding a contested national convention in Cleveland in July. The businessman’s win in his home state keeps him on a path to securing the 1,237 delegates he needs, though he’ll have to perform well in the round of primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware on Tuesday and in California’s huge contest on June 7.

His chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, has no mathematical path to getting the nomination through primary voting. But he sees a window to snatch the nomination from Trump at the convention, and his campaign is working feverishly to line up delegates who would support him if Trump fails to prevail on a first ballot.

The side-by-side GOP efforts at this late stage – with Trump amassing primary victories while Cruz digs for the support of delegates who could settle the nomination – are unprecedented in recent presidential campaigns and add to the deeply uncertain nature of the race.

Trump was rallying in Indiana and Maryland on Wednesday while Cruz campaigned in Hershey, Pennsylvania, trying to brush off his Tuesday shellacking in New York where he failed to pick up a single delegate. With trademark sarcasm, he played down Trump’s win, saying the mogul hoped to convince people that “Pennsylvania is a suburb of Manhattan.”

“Donald, with a characteristic display of humility, declared this race is over,” Cruz said. “Manhattan has spoken. And if the rest of the voters would quietly go home now and allow him to give the general election to Hillary, all would be better.”

Meanwhile, Republican leaders gathered at an oceanside resort in Florida for the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting. Trump has argued that the complicated state-by-state presidential nomination process is “rigged” against him.

Trump sent advisers to the meeting, including convention manager Paul Manafort and political director Rick Wiley, to court prospective delegates. Cruz sent aides for the same purpose.

While the messy nomination fight will be a focus of the meeting, party leaders are painfully aware that any new changes could fuel Trump’s charges of an unfair system. Priebus has discouraged such action this week.

“All they are going to hear is that the RNC changed the rules,” said Shak Hill, Cruz’s Virginia campaign chairman, warning that even the hint of rule changes at the Florida meeting would alarm GOP activists.

Clinton’s win in New York, a state she represented in the Senate for eight years, halted Sanders’ recent string of victories and put her in a stronger position heading into the next contests. She could lose them all and still win the nomination – if she did well enough to win some delegates.

Sen. Sanders’ advisers offered no signs of giving up before the Democrats’ Philadelphia convention.

Sanders decamped to his home in Vermont but planned to campaign in Pennsylvania on Thursday and Friday, Clinton was holding events in the Philadelphia area, joining former Attorney General Eric Holder to outline her plans to curb gun violence.

On the Republican side, both Trump and Cruz are urging Republicans to unify behind their campaigns, but many party leaders are torn. Trump is seen by some as a threat to the party’s very existence. Others fear the party would implode anyway if Cruz were to overtake Trump through a bitter and complicated delegate struggle in Cleveland.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the only other Republican left in the race, picked up at least three New York delegates but still has only one primary win – his home state.

Trump’s campaign has struggled to keep up with Cruz in working the delegate system, deepening the urgency around his team’s efforts to clinch the nomination before the July convention.

Mindful of a need to avoid errors like the ones that plagued his campaign in recent weeks, Trump has hired a more professional political staff, been more careful on social media and infused his victory remarks in New York with flashes of policy proposals.

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