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Massachusetts Primary: A Narrow Clinton Victory, And The Limits Of Sanders' Appeal

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event, Monday in Springfield, Mass. On Tuesday, Clinton narrowly defeated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Massachusetts primary. (Jessica Hill/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event, Monday in Springfield, Mass. On Tuesday, Clinton narrowly defeated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Massachusetts primary. (Jessica Hill/AP)
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After bruising contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton’s campaign reassured her supporters that the American South would provide her firewall against the blazing intensity of Bernie Sanders. But it was Massachusetts, a state predisposed to love the Democratic Socialist from neighboring Vermont, where Sanders hit the wall.

The fact that Sanders couldn’t win big here suggests there always were limits to his appeal.

With over 75 percent of the precincts reporting by about 11 p.m. on Super Tuesday, Clinton held a slight lead over Sanders, and it looked less likely that the senator could close the gap. But even a slight win by Sanders wouldn’t be very convincing. Among Democrats, at least, Massachusetts is Sanders country -- predominantly white, proudly liberal, with large percentages of young voters, and within a morning’s drive of Vermont.

The fact that Sanders couldn’t win big here suggests there always were limits to his appeal.

Sanders won in the western part of the state, fondly known as the Granola Belt -- places like Gill, Great Barrington and Goshen. But there just aren’t enough votes in Hampden County to make up for the big cities. Clinton took the Democratic strongholds of Newton, Brookline and even (gasp!) Cambridge.

Renée Loth: “…it was Massachusetts, a state predisposed to love the Democratic Socialist from neighboring Vermont, where Sanders hit the wall.” Pictured: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., raises his fist in the air during a campaign rally at Milton High School in Milton, Mass., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Renée Loth: “…it was Massachusetts, a state predisposed to love the Democratic Socialist from neighboring Vermont, where Sanders hit the wall.” Pictured: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., raises his fist in the air during a campaign rally at Milton High School in Milton, Mass., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

But Massachusetts has always been fond of the Clintons, providing gushers of campaign cash over the years, as well as political advisors and votes. Hillary won the state against Barack Obama in 2008. Bill Clinton’s appearance here Tuesday afternoon left many good Massachusetts liberals in a nostalgic swoon.

...you have to wonder about those 20,000 registered Democrats who dis-enrolled from their party since January, presumably to preserve the option of taking a Republican ballot in the state’s open primary.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, you have to wonder about those 20,000 registered Democrats who dis-enrolled from their party since January, presumably to preserve the option of taking a Republican ballot in the state’s open primary. Were they conservative Reagan Democrats, enthusiastically drawn to Donald Trump? Or were they liberal Democrats who took Republican ballots to try to stop Trump? The exceptionally high showing for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Massachusetts suggests at least a bit of the latter.

In the past six months, the country has seemed stricken with a fever of anti-establishment thrill-seeking. But in Massachusetts, where turnout broke records, voters recognized the gravity of what’s at stake.

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Renée Loth Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Renée Loth writes about news, politics and architecture for Cognoscenti. Her column appears regularly. She is also the editor of Architecture Boston magazine, and a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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