By Stephen Collinson
(CNN) — Bernie Sanders will win the West Virginia primary Tuesday, CNN projects, besting Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Sanders’ victory serves as a reminder to Clinton that despite her looming showdown with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, she has yet to formally wrap up her own party’s presidential nomination.
But the Vermont Senator’s triumph will do little to change the overall shape of the race. Clinton still enjoys a lead of nearly 300 pledged delegates and appears on course to formally clinch the nomination in the final round of big state primaries, including in California and New Jersey next month.
“It’s an uphill struggle,” Sanders said Tuesday in Stockton, California. “We have a chance to end up with a majority of the pledged delegates. And if we do that, I think you are looking at the Democratic nominee for president.”
Still, Sanders is mathematically prevented from winning the nomination based on pledged delegates alone. Vice President Joe Biden, who has stopped short of endorsing either candidate, acknowledged Tuesday that Clinton will ultimately become the Democratic nominee.
“I feel confident that Hillary will be the nominee and I feel confident she’ll be the next president,” Biden told ABC News.
On the Republican side, Trump cruised to an easy victory in West Virginia and Nebraska, CNN projects, bringing him closer to the 1,237 delegates he needs to officially close out the GOP nominating race. The GOP primary effectively ended last week with Trump’s victory in Indiana that knocked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz out of the race.
Even though the GOP race is essentially over, thumping vote totals on Tuesday could also reinforce the billionaire’s appeals for the party to unite around him, despite significant antipathy towards him from many conservatives and establishment leaders.
Still, most of the most attention was on the Democratic side of the race Tuesday with Clinton still unable to emphatically snuff out the Sanders challenge so that she can turn her full fire on Trump.
Eight years ago, West Virginia helped Clinton in the same way it might aid Sanders on Tuesday — her landslide victory in the primary over then Sen. Barack Obama boosted her morale even if it wasn’t enough to change the basic delegate math that made it impossible for her to win the nomination.
This time around, Clinton faced difficulties of her own making in West Virginia after saying in a March CNN town hall meeting in Ohio that she was going to put a “lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” with her policies on climate change.
During a swing through West Virginia last week, she apologized and said that while she believes the comments were taken out of context, she was guilty of a “misstatement.”
Clinton spent Tuesday in Kentucky, which votes next week, ignoring the primary in West Virginia, and instead warning Republicans that their attempts to bring her down will fail.
“The right wing never gives up attacking me. I think they are really going to throw everything including the kitchen sink this time. I have a message for them: They have done it for 25 years and I am still standing,” Clinton said at a rally in Louisville.
Sanders’ victory is unlikely to significantly cut into Clinton’s lead of nearly 300 pledged delegates, which itself is more than exceeded by her advantage in Democratic super delegates. Right now, she is only about 160 delegates short of the 2,383 delegate threshold she must reach to secure the nomination. Even if she loses in West Virginia, the proportional allocation of delegates in the primary means her lead over Sanders will stay mostly intact.
Clinton and Sanders are competing for only 29 pledged delegates in West Virginia. According to the latest CNN estimates, Clinton leads Sanders by 2,224 delegates to 1,448. She has 1,708 pledged delegates and 516 super delegates — party officials and lawmakers who can vote at the convention. Sanders has 1,407 pledged delegates and 41 committed super delegates. Those figures call into question his contention that he will be able to convince super delegates at the convention to back him and not the former secretary of state.
Trump currently has a total of 1,080 delegates, just short of the 1,237 delegates needed to formally claim the GOP nomination.