By Tory Newmyer
April 16, 2016

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

Hillary Clinton has never been closer to winning the Democratic presidential nomination. Counting her support from party insiders, she now claims a nearly 700-delegate lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and only needs to secure a third of those remaining to clinch. After a disappointing run in recent contests, she stands poised to clean up Tuesday in New York’s primary, launching her into a series of Northeastern states in which she also leads. This goal, eight years deferred, is nearer than within reach — it’s looking evermore inevitable.

None of that was in evidence from Clinton’s performance Thursday night on a Brooklyn debate stage. In her ninth and potentially final head-to-head with Sanders, Clinton was combative from the start. And she kept the heat on over the most contentious two hours of the campaign to date. Clinton repeatedly derided Sanders as a bystander to history who nitpicks the progress she earned scars to achieve (“Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” she sniffed at one point). Compare our five-minute supercut of the East River slugfest to the gauzy, upbeat video Clinton rolled out a year and two days earlier to announce her bid, and you’ll get an unmistakable sense of what the primary has wrought.

Clearly Sanders has posed a stiffer challenge than even he himself could have imagined. Now there’s an urgency behind Clinton’s effort to retire him. His continued appeal with young voters, his piles of campaign cash, and his belief, delegate deficit notwithstanding, that he can still win mean he will try to carry the fight into the convention. The ultimate outcome may not be in doubt, but there’s an opportunity cost to Clinton in forestalling it. She’s eager to pivot to the fight against the Republicans.

Yet no matter when it concludes, the crucible of the primary has already formed Clinton as a general election candidate. She previewed that contender at the debate: An unapologetic wonk with a lawyerly nose for weakness in the opposition’s argument and an apparently diminishing interest in leavening her presentation with poetry or uplift. Charming? Nope. But potentially formidable.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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