Clinton focuses on general, while Sanders sticks to script

BOSTON (AP) — Preparing for the biggest delegate haul of the campaign, Hillary Clinton is trying to leave Bernie Sanders with little room to operate and douse the flames behind his once insurgent campaign.

Clinton has shed nearly all references to her Democratic opponent, choosing instead to focus on Republican front-runner Donald Trump in advance of the “Super Tuesday” contests in the South and around the country. Sanders, meanwhile, remains resolute in his message, offering his standard economic-focused stump speech and looking past last weekend’s thrashing by Clinton in South Carolina.

“We are listening to the American people and their pain and their needs rather than hustling all over the country collecting millions of dollars from the 1 percent,” Sanders said at a Minneapolis rally Monday, pointing to his agenda of overhauling the campaign finance system and expanding Social Security benefits for retirees.

Sanders hopes to score victories in Minnesota and Massachusetts, where he traveled later Monday, and in Oklahoma and Colorado. He was ending his day in his home state of Vermont, which stands as the only sure thing in his Super Tuesday calculus, underscoring Clinton’s sky-high expectations of padding her delegate lead this week.

Clinton, powered by strong support among black voters, was in firm control in several Southern states holding contests Tuesday, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. The former secretary of state campaigned in Massachusetts and Virginia on Monday.

In all, 865 delegates are up for grabs in 11 states and American Samoa on Tuesday. Black voters powered Clinton to victory in South Carolina, with 8 in 10 voting for her, and are expected to be the difference makers for Clinton throughout the South.

Following her victory in South Carolina, Clinton has 546 delegates, including super delegates, the party leaders and members of Congress who can support any candidate. Sanders has 87 delegates and few immediate opportunities outside of Vermont to gain ground on Clinton. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.

Despite his obstacles, the Vermont senator has little incentive to fold. He reported raising more than $41 million in February and hoped to break the $45 million mark before the end of the day, a sign that he will have the money to go deep into the spring. And his team views a series of caucuses later this month as a place to rack up delegates and build momentum.

Clinton, meanwhile, has clearly turned the page and started eyeing a showdown with Republican front-runner Donald Trump, casting herself as the party’s best choice to take on the GOP.

“Every time I listen to the Republicans I know we have to fight hard for our rights,” said Clinton, addressing several hundred people gathered in a historic meeting house in Boston on Monday afternoon. “I don’t know what our founders, some of those early patriots, would think about what we’re up against today.”

Clinton and her team are growing increasingly confident that they are on track to capture their party’s nomination. Allies of the former secretary of state, unaffiliated Democratic strategists and the national party are stockpiling potential ammunition about Trump, reviewing reams of court filings, requesting information about his business dealings from state governments and conducting new polls to test lines of attack.

With Sanders lagging in delegates and likely to face greater losses on Super Tuesday, Clinton’s team is also starting to become more concerned with the need to eventually unify the party. They are trying to avoid further alienating the passionate Sanders backers, whose support she will need to win a general election, and remind Democratic voters that she could face Trump — a hated figure in the party.

Sanders, however, continues to point out his differences with Clinton, pointing to his unwillingness to have a super PAC, his opposition to the Iraq War and his rejection of trade agreements he says have led to job losses.

His recent speeches have been packed with his typical pledges to provide single-payer health care and free college tuition, to reform the criminal justice system and protect the environment.

Entering Tuesday’s contests, Sanders is hoping to stay close to Clinton in the Southern states and avoid blowouts that will allow Clinton to add to her delegate advantage and then perform well in the Midwest and Northeast. Sanders said Minnesota’s caucuses would be “important and key” to his Super Tuesday strategy.

“We can win, no question, here in Minnesota if we have the turnout,” he said.

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Thomas reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed from Oklahoma City.

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