Micek: Sanders burns out versus Hillary
It's time to say it out loud: The Democratic race for president is all over but for the shouting.
Yes, a bushel basket of nominating contests, including such key battleground states as Pennsylvania, still remain. And in this unpredictable season, the improbable may still yet happen.
But with a slender victory in Illinois and double-digit wins in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio last Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effectively put an end to a duel that Bernie Sanders' campaign maintains is still far from over.
"Our plan on this is we've got a long way to go, and we've got to demonstrate that Bernie's the strongest candidate," Sanders adviser Tad Devine told Politico. "We believe that slowly we can win support for people who aren't for someone, or who are softly for her, and then we can reach out more."
After March 15, it's tough to imagine how that's possible. Clinton's wins during Super Tuesday, Parte Deux, increased her delegate count to 1,561, with 2,382 needed to clinch the nomination, according to a tally by Real Clear Politics.
Sanders has 800 delegates, a gap that might as well be measured in light years at this point, given the vagaries of the party's nominating rules.
And with primaries in such states as Alaska, Idaho, Utah and Washington still ahead, whose electorates are overwhelmingly white and expected to favor Sanders, the Vermont senator could yet increase his delegate haul.
In Phoenix, Sanders maintained that his campaign had "defied expectations," The Washington Post reported. Later on Tuesday night, the campaign released a statement vowing to press forward.
"With more than half the delegates yet to be chosen and a calendar that favors us in the weeks and months to come, we remain confident that our campaign is on a path to win the nomination," it read, according to The Post.
In West Palm Beach, an ebullient, if a little hoarse, Clinton appeared before a rainbow-hued throng of supporters. And as she's done for the past several contests, she cast her eyes toward the general election campaign.
"Our commander-in-chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it," she said, in a clear reference to GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
"... When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States," she added, according to Politico. "When he embraces torture, that doesn't make him strong, it makes him wrong."
The crowd erupted at that one. How could it not?
The Manhattan real estate magnate is the bete noire of Democrats this campaign season. He's the monster under the bed that Democratic moms tell their kids about to make them go to sleep at night.
Establishment Republicans, too, are facing their own Ragnarok, a twilight of the GOP brought on by their inexplicable indulgence of Trump's divisive rhetoric and a spaghetti-spined unwillingness to bring the fight directly to him earlier in the primary calendar.
With Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's exit from the race, establishment Republicans now find themselves pinning their hopes on Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who won his home state on Tuesday.
It was a rare note of good news for establishment Republicans, who could only look on as Trump sailed to victory across the country last Tuesday.
Both the GOP establishment and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are now hoping for a floor fight at this July's Republican National Convention that will result in Trump being denied the GOP nomination.
That's a scenario that hasn't played out in any meaningful form since 1952, when it took Democrats no fewer than three ballots to finally settle on their nominee — Adlai Stevenson of Illinois.
And history documents what happened to him: Republican Dwight Eisenhower crushed Stevenson in the general election that year.
And one more bit of history for good measure: As Time notes, the last candidate to come out of a contested convention and win the White House was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
Clinton has an average 6.3 percent advantage over Trump, according to Real Clear Politics. And Cruz holds a far narrower average 0.8 percent lead over Clinton.
Thus, Republicans will need to capture historical lightning in a bottle.
Or else it'll be the GOP that really ends up feeling the burn come November.
John L. Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.