Missouri goes for Clinton; Sanders rebuffs calls to exit the race

By Marilyn Malara and Eric DuVall  |  Updated March 19, 2016 at 7:09 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders conceded defeat in Missouri's initially too-close-to-call Democratic primary, giving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the sweep in all five of Tuesday's contests.

Sanders, speaking to the press in Arizona, which votes next week, called the losses a "disappointment," particularly in Ohio where the Sanders camp thought they had a chance to pull out a victory but instead lost by 15 points.

Sanders also pushed back Saturday on a New York Times report Thursday that President Barack Obama had told a group of donors at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser it was nearing time for Sanders to drop out of the race so the party could unite around Clinton in the general election.

"I think they walked them back," Sanders said of Obama's comments. "But here is the point: we are halfway through the Democratic nominating process. It would be extraordinarily undemocratic to the tell the people in half the states in America, 'Oh, you don't have a right to get involved in the nominating process for the Democratic candidate.'"

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked about the Times article and Obama's comments to the donors Thursday. He reaffirmed Obama's neutrality in the race, though he did point out the president had cast a ballot Tuesday in his home state primary, Illinois -- meaning Obama, at least in private, had made up his mind about who he would prefer to see win the nomination.

Earnest would not reveal who the president voted for.

In Missouri, Sanders said he will not request a recount of votes, although he reportedly lost by a slim margin of 1,531 ballots, or .2 percent. Some absentee votes, accepted until noon Friday, still need to be counted before results are official.

The decision not to call for recount, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs told CNN, was meant to "save the taxpayers of Missouri some money." Candidates may call for a recount in Missouri if there is .5 percent or less difference in votes between first and second place.

Despite Clinton's win, delegates were split evenly between the two candidates. Sanders lags behind Clinton in delegate count, but remains hopeful for big wins in upcoming primary elections.

Sanders' camp said it's preparing for a favorable turnaround as it heads for more progressive states like California and New York, The Washington Post reported. At a fundraiser this week, Sanders predicted "an extremely good chance" to win the rest of the states voting this month, starting with Arizona and Utah on Tuesday.

"Our progressive agenda has enormous support," Sanders said in an interview. "For anyone to rule us out is making a mistake."

The Vermont senator, however, has said it will be a "hard fight" to regain traction although his progressive agenda sees "enormous support." He added dropping out would be "outrageously undemocratic."

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