WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton breezed past Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Tuesday's Maryland primary, handily winning a state in which she had maintained a substantial lead all year.
Major networks called the race soon after polls closed. With 95 pledged delegates at stake, Maryland is the second-biggest prize in the Democratic contests held on Tuesday, after Pennsylvania. All five contests -- including Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island -- allocate their delegates proportionally, and Clinton's total delegate haul will depend both on her margin of victory in each congressional district, and her overall statewide margin.
Sanders has faced a significant uphill climb on his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination ever since Clinton's strong showing in the March 1 "Super Tuesday" primaries, but has managed to stay in the race with a string of victories in Western states and an upset in Michigan. After a double-digit loss in delegate-rich New York last week, his path to the nomination has hinged on a mathematical fluke that would require lopsided victories in the remaining contests. Clinton's victory in Maryland makes the prospect of an eventual Sanders nomination still more implausible.
Maryland was an ideal state for the Clinton campaign. Sanders has struggled to woo black voters away from Clinton throughout the primary contest, and Maryland's black population of 29 percent is more than double the national average. Maryland is also home to much of the Washington "establishment" that Sanders rails against in his stump speeches.
Although Sanders has trailed Clinton by double digits in Maryland polls all year, he did not give up on the state. Thousands of his supporters turned out for a Sanders rally in downtown Baltimore on Saturday, where he was introduced by former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous.
Sanders has vowed to stay in the contest all the way to the Democratic convention in July. Although his delegate deficit appears nearly insurmountable, he has gained significant ground in nationwide polls among Democrats over the course of the year.
The HuffPost Pollster average of national polls shows Sanders trailing Clinton by less than 6 percentage points, after lagging by more than 20 at the beginning of January. If, as appears all but certain, Clinton does eventually clinch the nomination, she will need Sanders supporters to turn out to vote for her in the November general election. By staying in the race, Sanders can exact concessions from Clinton on key personnel and the Democratic Party platform in exchange for his support.