The rivals in the Democratic presidential primary descended on Massachusetts a day before Super Tuesday, as Hillary Clinton tested out a general-election message and Bernie Sanders worked to sway voters to his insurgent campaign.
Clinton, the front-runner, avoided directly mentioning Sanders during stops Monday at a history museum in Springfield and in Boston, instead focusing on the Republican nominee, “whoever that might be,” the former secretary of state told a cheering crowd in Springfield.
Appearing at an evening rally in Milton, Sanders, a US senator from Vermont, renewed his call for “a political revolution” and criticized Clinton for not producing transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street banks, and for supporting the Iraq war and the 1996 federal ban on gay marriage.
With polls showing Clinton ahead of Sanders in a state widely regarded as vital for his hopes to secure the nomination, both campaigns expended valuable final hours before Super Tuesday in a reliably Democratic state that has taken on outsized importance in an unexpectedly close race.
The state’s battleground status also drew former president Bill Clinton, who headlined a late-night rally for his wife in Worcester.
He recalled how the area has given the couple widespread support in prior elections.
“You have been so good to me and to Hillary,” he said. ”You gave her an overwhelming victory before.”
Clinton did not mention Sanders but he took a couple swipes at businessman Donald Trump, especially his often-repeated plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.
“It’s a good way to do something unethical and collapse the economy overnight,” he said of Trump’s plan.
About 400 people crowded into a basement-level room at Crompton Collective, a downtown Worcester marketplace, and raucously cheered the former president’s arrival late Monday night.
The intense focus on Massachusetts came as Hillary Clinton has amassed a delegate lead and, coming off a solid victory in the South Carolina primary, is poised to perform well in the other Super Tuesday states. Sanders, who has acknowledged that he is an underdog in the Democratic contest, has pinned his hopes on states like Massachusetts to fuel his progressive cause.
Massachusetts is one of 11 states voting in Democratic primaries Tuesday, the single day when the most convention delegates will be awarded. Sanders’ campaign acknowledges that the state is one of just five it could win Tuesday, and Massachusetts dangles the day’s largest share of delegates.
“Momentum, as fickle as it can be, is really firmly behind her, and Massachusetts is really a place he had to win, or has to win, to get to the next set of primaries,” said Daniel F. Cence, a veteran Democratic strategist. “With its high level of unenrolled voters and, at this point in time, huge population of student voters, it should be fertile ground for him.”
Polls show Clinton with a lead over Sanders in the single digits, greatly diminished from last year when the Vermont senator began gaining ground on her. A Suffolk University poll released Sunday among likely Democratic primary voters here pegged Clinton with 50 percent and Sanders with 42 percent. A University of Massachusetts Amherst/WBZ poll out Monday gave Clinton a three-point edge.
The state has long been friendly to the Clintons. It provided a refuge for President Clinton when he was engulfed in an Oval Office scandal and a bright spot in 2008 for Hillary Clinton, when she won the state’s primary despite opposition from top Democrats Deval Patrick, Edward M. Kennedy, and John F. Kerry.
This year, the state’s Democratic establishment is nearly monolithic in its backing of Clinton, including every member of the Washington delegation except for Senator Elizabeth Warren. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, after openly speculating about backing Vice President Joe Biden in a bid that never materialized, has heavily supported Clinton, sending volunteers to New Hampshire and activating his political organization in the capital.
But Sanders has excited the party’s progressive base, which embraces his hard-line stance against Wall Street and overtures toward single-payer health care and tuition-free higher education.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Monday that he expected high and potentially record-breaking overall turnout Tuesday, with the contentious Republican primary driving much of the enthusiasm. Galvin, a Democrat, said nearly 20,000 voters have unenrolled from the Democratic Party since Jan. 1, registering either as a Republican or an independent.
In a Globe interview, Sanders brushed aside concerns that the country is not ripe for dramatic change.
“The political revolution is happening,” Sanders said. “Millions of people are beginning to become involved in politics. That was not the case previously. We will see what happens tomorrow. I can’t predict, but we think we have a chance to do well and win a number of states and do better than people think in other states. We’re going to continue this campaign until the convention, and we’re feeling pretty good.”
At Milton High School, a line of hundreds snaked through the parking lot hours before Sanders was set to take the gymnasium stage. Doffing his jacket before an estimated crowd of 3,600, he hammered familiar campaign themes: pay equity between sexes, criminal justice reform, comprehensive changes to immigration policy.
“What this campaign is about is having millions of people standing together and saying loudly and clearly, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Sanders said to cheers.
Sanders also trained his fire on Trump, promising he would beat the billionaire “badly” in a general election and arguing that most Americans do not want a president who insults women, Mexicans, Muslims, and former prisoners of war such as Senator John McCain of Arizona.
“Most of all, we will defeat Donald Trump because we know that love trumps hatred,” he said, triggering chants of “Bernie! Bernie!”
Appearing at an afternoon rally inside Boston’s historic Old South Meeting House, Clinton referred to Sanders only as her “esteemed opponent” with whom she disagrees on free college education and guns. But unlike her campaign speeches of just a week ago, in the hours before the Nevada Democratic caucuses, she refrained from calling him out by name.
Following her victory in Nevada, a blowout win in South Carolina last Saturday, and with big expectations for Super Tuesday, Clinton appeared to look past Sanders to potential Republican opponents.
Clinton spoke in Boston to a capacity audience of 650 supporters and press packed into the historic venue, as another 1,000 people listened outside. She was introduced by Attorney General Maura Healey and Walsh.
Addressing an estimated crowd of 700 in Springfield, Clinton peppered her remarks with references to her history with Western Massachusetts issues and Democratic politicians. She used a new stump-speech line jabbing at Trump’s campaign slogan.
“I don’t think America has ever stopped being great,” Clinton said. “What we need to do is make America whole again.”
Clinton addressed the Springfield crowd for about 30 minutes, repeatedly suggesting that she is the Democratic Party’s best hope to defeat a Republican in November.
“One advantage I have is they’ve been after me for 25 years and I’m still standing,” she said.
Akilah Johnson, James Pindell, and Joshua Miller of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Laurie Loisel and James A. Kimble contributed to this report. Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.