WASHINGTON - In the U.S. presidential race, state primary contests conclude this week with America’s most populous state, California, as the biggest prize.
Tuesday’s primaries could definitively settle the only remaining question in the 2016 presidential primary season: whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic presidential nominee.
Clinton defeated Sanders in Puerto Rico’s Democrat primary on Sunday, inching her slightly closer to the eventual nomination.
Polls show a tight race in California, a state that Clinton and Sanders each desperately want to win. Even so, both are focusing most of their firepower on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
"Donald Trump's ideas are not just different, they are dangerously incoherent,” Clinton said in a foreign policy address last week. “He is not just unprepared, he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.”
"What you do when you don’t have any real answers to the real problems, you scapegoat people,” Sanders, a Vermont senator, said at a campaign stop Friday. “We’re not going to let Trump divide us up.”
Trump hit back, blasting Clinton’s private email use as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term in office.
“Hillary Clinton has to go to jail, okay? She has to go to jail,” the New York businessman said Friday. “I think she could make more money if she made speeches and sold them for people that can't sleep.”
Trump also grabbed headlines by saying a federal judge is biased against him due to his Mexican heritage, and by calling attention to a rally attendee's race.
"Oh -- look at my African-American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest?” Trump asked at a campaign stop, pointing into the crowd.
“The greatest” refers to the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who rejected Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States and urged a greater understanding of Islam.
Trump has received endorsements from a number of powerful Republicans in Congress and elsewhere. But many of them express unease over the businessman’s near-constant barrage of incendiary remarks.
Change of tactics urged for Trump
Republican Senator Bob Corker urged a shift in Trump’s campaign tactics heading into the general election.
“I think that he (Trump) is going to have to change,” Corker, of Tennessee, said on ABC’s This Week program.
“It’s my hope that he’s going to transition. He has an opportunity to really change the trajectory of our country, and it’s my sense that he will take advantage of that,” he said.
Analysts say Americans should not expect an uplifting contest between Clinton and Trump.
"Because we have two candidates who are more distrusted than trusted, more disliked than liked, this becomes a race to the bottom,” said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
The delegate math suggests that Clinton will clinch the Democratic nomination whether or not she wins in California and several other states on Tuesday.
But losses to Sanders finishing out the primary season could strengthen the senator’s oft-stated resolve to take the fight to the Democratic National Convention next month.