HONOLULU, March 27 (UPI) -- Bernie Sanders, the once unlikely challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nominee, won Hawaii's presidential preference poll Saturday by a landslide, completing a three-state sweep.
The Vermont senator's grass-roots campaign signed up thousands of new Democrats and got them to the polls. The island-state victory capped the sweep in which he also won Washington and Alaska, showing his campaign could be an actual threat to former Secretary of State Clinton's campaign.
There was some confusion at the polls with some Hawaii residents complaining the party's voting was cut off too early, leaving many with no opportunity to cast their ballot, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. State party officials had opened the polls at 1 p.m. but never announced in advance when they would close.
Sanders got 71 percent of the votes in Hawaii, 73 percent in the Washington caucuses and a resounding 82 percent in Alaska, the New York Times reported.
Sanders, speaking at a rally in Madison, Wis. Saturday afternoon, said these victories had cleared a realistic path to the Democratic nomination. "We knew from day one that politically we were going to have a hard time in the Deep South," he said. "But we knew things were going to improve when we headed west."
He thanked the people of Hawaii for their strong support and for the large turnout.
"In state after state our grassroots effort has taken on the entire political establishment," he said. Hawaii Democratic Party officials reported 7,000 new members have signed up to vote since late last year and most are believed to be Sanders supporters.
Saturday's victories only slightly narrowed the vast space between Sanders and Clinton, however in the quest to get 2,382 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
As of Saturday night, Clinton had roughly 280 more pledged delegates, who are awarded based on voting, and 440 more super delegates, which are party leaders and elected officials.
Even at that, Sanders' Saturday sweep is likely to get him a surge of online donations he can use to purchase advertising in the pricey media markets of New York and Pennsylvania.