bernie blue

Photo via U.S. Senate (PD) | Remix via Max Fleishman

Big sky, big election.

Bernie Sanders has won the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in Montana, beating rival Hillary Clinton.

There are 21 delegates at stake in the state. Like all states, Montana's Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally based on each candidate's share of the vote. Sanders will receive 11 of the state's pledged delegates while Clinton will take 10.

According to surveys of delegates conducted by a number of media organizations that circulated on Monday evening, Clinton has already reached the number of pledged delegates and superdelegates necessary to capture the nomination. That lead expanded Tuesday night with wins in New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and California. In addition to Montana, Sanders also claimed victory in North Dakota.

The Sanders campaign has downplayed Clinton's victory, asserting it was the Vermont senator's intention to continue challenging Clinton until superdelegates, who are unbound to any candidate, cast their votes at the Democratic National Convention, which takes place in Philadelphia in late July. 

Despite coming into the Montana contest significantly trailing Clinton in delegates, Sanders put on a determined face during a rally in Billings last month, the Associated Press reported

“My hope is that this beautiful state will help lead the nation in the political revolution,” Sanders told a crowd of some 3,000 people. “It’s not going to be easy. It is a steep climb and I admit it,” he added. “But if we can do really well in the next eight contests including Montana, we can end up with more pledged delegates, real delegates, elected by the people [than Clinton].”

Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, swung into Montana in May as well, as the former secretary of state's campaign opened a number of campaign offices in the state.

In her 2008 primary effort against then-Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton lost the state by 15 points. “[This year is] a very different landscape [than 2008],” Clinton's Montana Campaign Manager Jenny Eck insisted to the Associated Press. “Nationally, we have seen Sanders perform well in states like Montana. ... Our plan is to run the strongest ground game that we can, and we’ll see what happens.”

Prior to Tuesday's election, there were no current public polls about the state of the race in Montana.

Montana is one of the 18 states that use an open primary system, meaning that voters don't have to register with a given political party to vote in that party's primary. Through the campaign cycle, Sanders has generally done better in states with open primaries, whereas Clinton has had an advantage in states where only registered Democratic have a say in picking the party's nominee.

This open primary system has been controversial. Earlier this year, Montana Republicans unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to switch to a closed primary. 

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