After wins in New York, Clinton and Trump aim to strengthen their odds

After decisive victories in the New York primary, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump turned to a string of contests next week along the East Coast in hopes of putting away their competition for good.

The primaries Tuesday in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are a chance for Clinton, who already holds a dominant lead over Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, to put the party’s nomination further out of his reach.

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And Trump’s swing down I-95 will be another test of his campaign’s strength. He not only hopes to handily win Pennsylvania — the biggest trove of delegates — but also challenge Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s mastery of the byzantine process for wrangling party insiders who could decide the nomination.

With a lead in the polls in most upcoming states, Clinton visited a Philadelphia church to address gun violence and criminal justice before a mostly black audience. She’s dominated states with diverse Democratic electorates, and she’s favored to win both Pennsylvania, which has 189 Democratic delegates at stake, and Maryland, which offers 95.

Kasich, Cruz continue fight to stop Trump

Trump staged rallies in Maryland and Indiana, where a May 3 contest is also shaping up to be a potentially pivotal moment in the race for the GOP nomination. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are trying to block Trump from securing the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nod, and the billionaire has little room for mistakes as he targets the 172 slots up for grabs next week.

Cruz and Kasich, meanwhile, tried to rebound from a devastating day. Cruz finished in a distant third place and failed to pick up a single delegate in Tuesday’s vote, a defeat he seemed to anticipate by shifting his campaign to Pennsylvania even as New Yorkers were casting their ballots.

On the verge of being mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright, the Texan is relying more heavily on his strategy of winning over the delegates elected at grass-roots levels who could become free agents after the first ballot vote in Cleveland.

His campaign’s organizing might paid off this week in Georgia, where despite a third-place finish in the statewide vote in March, many more Cruz supporters were elected as delegates than Trump backers.

“We are headed to a contested convention,” Cruz said Wednesday in an interview with a Philadelphia talk show host. “At this point, nobody is getting 1,237. Donald is going to talk all the time about other folks not getting to 1,237; he’s not getting there either. None of us are getting to 1,237.”

Kasich had limited success — he nabbed a handful of delegates in centrist Manhattan — leading his chief strategist to say Kasich was “best positioned” to challenge Trump in next week’s contests. He, too, zeroed in on Pennsylvania and the 71 GOP delegates it offers.

Sanders vs. Clinton

It was the Democratic contest, though, where the results were perhaps even more polarizing.

Sanders had little chance of overtaking Clinton before New York’s vote, and after Tuesday’s rout his path is even more daunting. He needs to win close to 60 percent of the vote in the remaining primaries to surpass Clinton, and many of those contests favor her.

Making matters worse for Sanders are the systematic quirks of next week’s contests. Four of the five states — all but Delaware — feature primaries only open to registered Democrats and shut off to independents. Those closed primaries tend to dissuade newcomers and independents from voting, potentially depriving Sanders of the very demographic he’s relied upon to fuel his insurgent campaign.

After adding at least 135 delegates in her New York victory, Clinton’s campaign is now hopeful she can clinch the nomination before the June vote in California, which Sanders eyed as a last-ditch firewall. Counting superdelegates — the party elite who can pick whichever candidate they like — she’s some 450 delegates shy of winning the nod.

There’s also little sign that the escalating rhetoric between the two, which reached new heights in the run-up to the New York vote, will tone down this week.

Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri told reporters Tuesday that the Sanders campaign is “destructive” and counterproductive for Democrats, while Sanders’ campaign manager threatened to fight on even if Clinton came to the July convention in Philadelphia with huge leads.

“At the end of the day the Democrats are going to have to decide who they want to elect in terms of who’s going to be the best in November,” Jeff Weaver told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki. “And clearly the polls are almost unanimous now that Bernie Sanders is a much more electable candidate in November.”

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