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u.s. election 2016

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses a rally during a campaign event on Super Tuesday in Miami.RHONA WISE/AFP / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton delivered a major blow to Bernie Sanders on the most significant day of voting in the presidential nominating contest, winning key victories that make it near certain she will lead the Democratic Party ticket in November's election.

Ms. Clinton won seven of the 11 states voting in the massive Super Tuesday primary and caucus contest, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist who became an unlikely spoiler to Ms. Clinton's plans in the early stages of the contest, scored wins in his home state of Vermont, and in Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnessota.

For Ms. Clinton, Tuesday's results mean that the prize that eluded her back in 2008 – when Barack Obama emerged to win the Democratic presidential nomination – is almost within reach. A former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, Ms. Clinton is a large step closer to becoming the first female nominee for president from a major political party in American history.

"What a Super Tuesday!" said Ms. Clinton, smiling broadly, at a rally in Miami as the results came in. "All across our country today, Democrats voted to break down barriers so we can all rise together."

In recent days, Ms. Clinton has begun to pivot toward the general election in her speeches, urging Americans to unite in the face of "hateful rhetoric" and "scapegoating" by the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump.

"America has never stopped being great," she said Tuesday night, in a reference to Mr. Trump's campaign slogan. "We have to make America whole," she continued.

Mr. Sanders, buoyed by a sea of individual donations and the devotion of his supporters, has promised to fight on until the Democratic Party convention. But his ability to wrest the nomination from Ms. Clinton has shrunk dramatically.

"Thirty-five states remain and let me assure you that we are going to take our fight for economic justice, for social justice, for environmental sanity, for a world of peace, to every one of those states," Mr. Sanders said Tuesday night in Vermont.

While Mr. Sanders fought Ms. Clinton to a near-tie in the Iowa caucus and won the New Hampshire primary, the senator from Vermont has failed to win significant support from African American voters. On Saturday, those voters helped deliver a resounding victory for Ms. Clinton in South Carolina.

According to the Associated Press, Ms. Clinton now has at least 723 delegates, including super delegates – the party leaders and members of Congress who can support any candidate – while Mr. Sanders has received at least 158. To win the nomination requires 2,383 delegates.

While Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have fought a vigorous contest, their sparring hasn't featured the bitter, ad hominem attacks now roiling the Republican Party. That will make it easier for Democrats to unify behind the eventual nominee.

In Massachusetts, many Democratic voters expressed admiration for both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders. "I like Bernie's idealism, okay, but it's not a dictatorship – you have to work with Republicans to get anything done," said Penny Peck, 50, a veterinarian who attended Ms. Clinton's rally in Springfield on Monday.

Mr. Sanders has run "a great campaign," said Elaine Garnache, a librarian in Wellesley, Mass., on Tuesday. "But I don't know how he's going to pay for all of those things he promises." Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton is articulate, intelligent, tough and experienced, she said.

Some Democratic voters, however, have deep misgivings about Ms. Clinton. Pam Davis, 60, says she would love to see a woman president and even supported Ms. Clinton over Mr. Obama back in 2008. But the intervening years have given her pause.

"I'm sick of the Clintons," said Ms. Davis after casting her vote for Mr. Sanders. "I don't care that she's increased her wealth and power – this is America, that's fine. But don't tell me you're in it to help the masses."