Clinton's inevitability raises question: What's next for Bernie?

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Hillary Clinton Racks Up Wins, Speaks of Unity

The Democratic nomination Tuesday night became Hillary Clinton's to lose – and her commanding wins in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware mean there is almost no way she can fail in her second, grueling quest to be the first female major party presidential nominee.

Speaking in Philadelphia, the city where Clinton would be officially crowned the nominee, the former secretary of state talked like a general election candidate, slamming the GOP for what she called divisive and negative rhetoric.

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"We will unify our party to win this election and build an America where we all rise together, an America where we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down," a beaming Clinton told cheering supporters.

She made merely a passing criticism of her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whom she has characterized as long on pie-in-the-sky rhetoric and short on plans. "We have to be both dreamers and doers," Clinton said.

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Clinton's inevitability raises question: What's next for Bernie?

Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., smiles during an event with Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. Buffet said at the rally that he was supporting Clinton's bid for president because they share a commitment to help the less affluent. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Governor Jerry Brown, seen here with then-candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, notoriously did not like the Clintons for years, but announced a week before the California primary that he would back Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/Getty)
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, seen here at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party, hasn't formally endorsed Hillary Clinton but he has donated $2700 to her campaign and backed her in 2008. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Walter Mondale was the first former Democratic vice president to endorse Clinton (REUTERS/Craig Lassig)
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., has been an early Clinton backer, seen here at a 'Super Tuesday' watch party her campaign in Atlanta, Ga., March 1, 2016. He is famous for his work fighting for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
LEBANON, NH - JANUARY 09: Former U.S. Women's National Soccer Team captain Abby Wambach smiles while she is introduced to a crowd at a Hillary Clinton campaign office on January 9, 2016 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Wambach highlighted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's commitment to standing up for women and girls. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Singer Demi Lovato, seen here onstage at WE Day California 2016, is a Clinton supporter. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for WE Day )
Actress and screenwriter Lena Dunham campaigns for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Eight Seven Central screen printers in Des Moines, Iowa, January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank
Singer Katy Perry, center, holds a sign in support of Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, as Clinton speaks at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. With Vice President Joe Biden officially out of the presidential race, the nation's first nominating contest between front-runner Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders is gaining steam, according to a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, seen here working with Clinton when they were Senate colleagues, was an early supporter of the former secretary of state. (REUTERS/William Philpott WP/SV)
Actress Kerry Washington, seen here at a 30th anniversary presentation at the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards, is a Clinton supporter. (Adrees Latif / Reuters)
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Sanders won the nation's smallest state, Rhode Island, in a victory that served as a metaphor for a candidate who has done far better than expected but still always lagged behind the front-runner.

Clinton's win makes it all but mathematically impossible for Sanders to catch up, especially with Clinton's dominance among the "superdelegates," elected officials and party bigwigs who get a say in selecting the nominee at the convention. But Sanders has shown no indication he will drop out of the race, a move that would allow Clinton to focus on the general election but take the once-relatively unknown Vermont lawmaker out of the national spotlight.

Sanders' campaign has made noises about convincing superdelegates to switch sides once the nomination comes to a vote in Philadelphia in July. But that possibility seems even more dim with Clinton's performance Tuesday night. Aside from winning lopsided victories in three states, Clinton dominated among women and African-Americans, both critical Democratic constituencies.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada acknowledged Sanders' fate Tuesday afternoon, saying he didn't see how Sanders could get the nomination. The Capitol Hill veteran "has run a campaign that I think we've all recognized has been unique and powerful, and I think Bernie should do what he wants to do," Reid told reporters, declining to call on Sanders to leave the race. Asked directly if he thinks Sanders could still win the nomination, Reid said, "No, I do not."

Sanders campaigned Tuesday night in West Virginia, calling his supporters "revolutionaries" committed to "transforming our nation." While his campaign manager, Tad Devine, told news organizations Tuesday that Sanders would reassess his campaign on Wednesday, he gave no indication Sanders would actually give up the fight.

Many observers believe Sanders will stay in the race until the convention, if not to seriously challenge Clinton, then to satisfy the supporters who made the improbable contender a serious challenger to a powerful former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Sanders has railed against big money in politics – mainly against large donations from special interests – yet has displayed a remarkable ability to raise tens of millions of dollars a month in donations as small as $2.70. As long as he has cash, analysts note, there's no pressing reason for him to step aside.

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And when tens of thousands shout out "Feel the Bern!" at his rallies, it's easy for Sanders to believe it's possible to wrest the nomination, notes Garrison Nelson, a University of Vermont professor and longtime watcher of Sanders' political career.

"Bernie's didactic. That's his problem. He's a sermonizer. That's his strength, and that's his weakness," Nelson says. He's gotten so hooked on his applause lines." That makes it harder, analysts say, for Sanders to reconcile the enthusiasm at his massive rallies with his lagging performance in the delegate race.

"I think it was sort of surprising how much traction he got as the race went on. He expected to be sort of a gadfly, not someone who actually had a chance," says Seth McKee, a political science professor at Texas Tech University. "I think there were months in the campaign where he actually thought he had a chance to win. He got closer than he thought he would."

But the enthusiasm for Sanders has turned out to be no match for the strategic work of an experienced Clinton campaign, which started early in wooing superdelegates and local political and civic leaders. Clinton eschewed the huge rallies and instead has done smaller events aimed at targeted audiences.

That plan was rewarded with a 16-point victory for Clinton in New York, a primary Nelson sees as the turning point for the Sanders campaign. While Sanders was rallying a crowd of 28,000 in Brooklyn, Clinton was addressing a small crowd on mostly-Republican Staten Island, listing her accomplishments as senator from New York. She ended up taking Staten Island – along with Sanders' home borough of Brooklyn.

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Clinton's inevitability raises question: What's next for Bernie?
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 15: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center during a campaign rally on March 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary elections in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, while Missouri and Illinois remain tight races. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, pumps his fist as he arrives for at a rally at the Macomb Community College, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Warren, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks at the FOX News town hall at the Gem Theatre, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves as he leaves a news conference after voting in the Vermont primary at the Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center in Burlington, Vermont, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, on Super Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)???
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, and his wife, Jane arrive for a rally in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. smiles while speaking at the Kansas City Convention Center during a campaign event in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, meets 3-month-old Oliver Lomas, of Venice, Calif., who was dressed as Sanders during a rally at Bonanza High School, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a canvass kick-off event at the Reno Sparks Convention Center, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to a crowd outside of a rally at Bonanza High School, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., boards his plane for a campaign rally in Las Vegas, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The Rev. Al Sharpton talks with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. as they sit down for a breakfast meeting at Sylvia's Restaurant, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Sanders defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., reacts to the cheering crowd at his primary night rally Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a selfie during a campaign rally on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 26: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after holding a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L, on January 26, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders continues his quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee.. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - US Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 24, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a CNN town hall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. jokes with members of the media and pretends to slip as he steps off his bus before speaking at a town hall, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, at Santa Maria Winery in Carroll, Iowa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leaves after speaking to a crowded room during a campaign stop Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, is joined by his wife Jane, right, and grandchildren, Dylan, 4, and Ella, 7, on stage after speaking at a town hall at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, participates in the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Hours before Sunday's Democratic debate, the two top Democratic contenders held a warm-up bout of sorts in multiple separate appearances on political talk shows, at a time when the polling gap between the pair has narrowed in early-voting states. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shakes hands with supporters after outlining his plan to reform the U.S. financial sector on January 5, 2016 in New York City. Sanders is demanding greater financial oversight and greater government action for banks and individuals that break financial laws. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, to discuss gun control and related amendments to the reconciliation bill. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders at the NHDP annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Manchester, N.H., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., steps onstage to speak at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. left, sits with rapper Killer Mike at The Busy Bee Cafe Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. Killer Mike is scheduled to introduce Sanders at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre later in the evening. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The crowd cheers as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., cheer at the Jenkins Orphanage in North Charleston, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, during the Blue Jamboree event. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, about the meaning of "democratic socialism" and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses to wipe his brow as he speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, about the meaning of "democratic socialism" and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
LEBANON, NH - NOVEMBER 11: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) marches in the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2015 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sanders goes into the Democrats second debate this weekend still running strong in the polls.(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. While next Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about the Workplace Democracy Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks during a campaign rally in Springfield, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2105. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the Des Moines Youth Summit, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, at Creative Visions in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Senator Bernie Sanders at Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City on September 18, 2015. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses striking low-wage contract workers from the US Capitol and religious leaders at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC, on September 22, 2015 for an interfaith service ahead of the arrival of Pope Francis for a six-day visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks on stage during the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on September 19, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Five Democratic presidential candidates are all expected to address the crowd inside the Verizon Wireless Arena. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves as he marches with supporters in the Labor Day parade Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Milford, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a television interview before a town hall meeting, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Grinnell, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I -Vt., reacts during a fundraiser reception Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., greets supporters during the opening of his Cedar Rapids field headquarters, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, in Marion, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa at the Iowa State Fair Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Clear Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally, Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lifts his arms in celebration as he speaks at a rally, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a visit to the National Nurses United office Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A supporter takes a photo with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, at a rally, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., smiles before a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The afternoon rally was the first of several weekend appearances by Sanders in Seattle and Portland. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Nurses take "selfies" with Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., after her spoke at a rally with registered nurses and other community leaders on the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, Thursday, July 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the 2015 International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART) Conference, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joined by federal contract workers, speaks during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 22, 2015, to push for a raise to the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gives an opening statement at a Netroots Nation town hall meeting, Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waits to speak at the Alliance for Retired Americans 2015 National Legislative Conference in Washington, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to the media about his agenda in running for president, Thursday, April 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a portrait before an interview, Wednesday May 20, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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The Vermont lawmaker was also damaged, Nelson notes, by an interview he gave to the New York Daily News editorial board in which Sanders appeared to have an unformed foreign policy and no specific plan to break up the big banks, as he repeatedly has pledged to do.

Pennsylvania and Maryland were challenging for Sanders from the start, as both have traditional Democratic constituencies, such as African-Americans in both states and an older electorate in the Keystone State, that have favored Clinton in primaries so far.

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The question Democrats have is: What does Sanders want? And how will he conduct himself for the remainder of the campaign?

Sanders has said he wants to shape the party's message and platform, meaning in practical terms that he would be given a speaking role at the convention. That might be hard for Democrats to swallow if Sanders continues to criticize Clinton aggressively. Her camp is particularly irritated with Sanders' charges that Clinton is getting around campaign finance rules, since it feeds Republican Donald Trump's "Crooked Hillary" line of attack.

Clinton would need Sanders supporters to embrace her – or at least vote for her – in November, and that would require Sanders to endorse Clinton formally. Since Sanders was not even a Democrat until he sought the party's nomination for president, he has no established ties or loyalty to the party, notes Nelson, who adds that Sanders ran against Democrats on 10 occasions in his career.

SEE ALSO: Bernie Sanders name drops possible vice president

But if he refuses to endorse Clinton – who not only endorsed President Barack Obama but urged delegates to nominate Obama by acclamation despite having endured a bitter 2008 primary campaign against him – he will likely be denied a formal role in Philadelphia, Nelson predicts. California Gov. Jerry Brown, who ran for president in 1992, was refused a convention speaking role in New York City that year because he declined to endorse Bill Clinton.

"You can be damn sure the Clintons will impose the same on Bernie if he chooses not to endorse her," Nelson says.

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