Bernie Sanders won the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary in convincing fashion Tuesday, adding to his recent winning streak and fueling his long-shot bid to wrest the nomination from front-runner Hillary Clinton.
The Associated Press called the race for Sanders less than an hour after the polls closed Tuesday. A large voter turnout and wins in almost all counties outside Milwaukee County helped Sanders carry the state.
Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont, responded to the results at an event in Wyoming by describing his campaign as riding a surge of momentum. He noted that, with Tuesday's win, he has prevailed in seven of the last eight presidential contests.
"Let me take this opportunity to thank the people of Wisconsin for their strong support," Sanders told cheering supporters.
Joe Zepecki, who oversaw communications for President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign in Wisconsin and is not working for either candidate, said Sanders' Badger State win bolsters his narrative that his campaign is on a roll.
“There’s no question that (Sanders) has the wind at his back," Zepecki said. "The challenge remains for him -- he still has a significant delegate lead that he has to erase.”
Sanders' win was impressive in that he outperformed his lead in recent polls, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. But Kondik also said Sanders faces a tall order to threaten Clinton's grip on the Democratic nomination.
"If Sanders is really going to push Clinton, he needs to post similarly big wins in states that are less favorable to him, like New York" and Pennsylvania, Kondik said.
The next Democratic primary state is New York, a state to which both candidates have ties. Clinton is the former U.S. senator from New York; Sanders was born and raised in New York City.
Clinton congratulated Sanders in a Twitter post shortly after the results were announced.
"To all the voters and volunteers who poured your hearts into this campaign: Forward!" the post said.
Polls made Sanders the favorite heading into Tuesday's primary, though many predicted a tighter contest. A Marquette Law School Poll released last week had him leading Clinton 49 percent to 45 percent among likely Democratic voters.
Experts said for weeks that a big win in Wisconsin was a must for Sanders. That was due to Clinton's large delegate lead and the degree to which the state's demographics -- including its largely white population and history of progressive activism -- matched other states in which Sanders performed well.
Sanders barnstormed the state during the last week while Clinton maintained a lower profile. The Sanders campaign invested heavily in TV ads, blanketing local airwaves emphasizing his support for environmental protections, among other measures.
It wasn't immediately clear how much Sanders' win in Wisconsin dented Clinton's huge lead in delegates to the national convention, who will pick the party's nominee. At press time early Wednesday, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin didn't have totals on how many delegates went to each candidate.
Eighty-six of Wisconsin's 96 delegates to the Democratic National Convention were up for grabs Tuesday. The delegates are awarded proportionally based on the results statewide in each of the state's eight congressional districts.
That means that even a sizable win would translate to a minimal pickup in net delegates.
Heading into the Wisconsin primary, Sanders needed to win 57 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to finish with a majority. That excludes so-called "superdelegates" whose votes are not tied to their states' primary or caucus and may support whoever they choose. The vast majority of superdelegates who have committed to a candidate are backing Clinton.
John Coleman, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, said he's skeptical that a win for Sanders will give him momentum in upcoming states.
"Wisconsin has a makeup that is very conducive" for Sanders, Coleman said. "He’s running out of Wisconsins. I think that’s the problem."
According to unofficial results in Dane County, which had the largest repository of Sanders votes, he beat Clinton 102,585 to 61,072, or 62.5 percent to 37.2 percent.
Sanders' platform is rooted in his calls to reduce income inequality, confront the financial industry, overhaul the nation's campaign-finance system and make college and university tuition free.
Clinton has stressed her unmatched political resume, which includes stints as First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State. She also has touted what she described as her superior understanding of foreign affairs, while calling for reducing college costs and curbing gun violence.
Both candidates have advocated increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Sanders is advocating a $15-an-hour wage; Clinton has said the $15 wage makes sense in large urban areas, but that a lesser increase may be warranted in rural areas and small cities with a lesser cost of living.