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U.S. Democrat Clinton narrowly ahead of Sanders in Kentucky primary

Reuters Reuters 18/05/2016 Ginger Gibson and Emily Stephenson
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. © Reuters Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.

Hillary Clinton was narrowly ahead of Bernie Sanders in Kentucky's Democratic presidential primary with 99 percent of the vote counted on Tuesday night.

The tight contest was yet another demonstration of how divided Democrats are in the drawn-out national race for the party's nomination.

Kentucky was not considered favorable terrain for Clinton, after neighboring West Virginia and Indiana both went to Sanders. Clinton's ability to stave off a resounding defeat in Kentucky now gives her a little breathing room, as she looks forward to a lull in the primary campaign before the final contests on June 7.

Clinton, who spent the past two days campaigning in Kentucky, would like to lock up the nomination and turn her attention to November's general election and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Trump, in an interview with Megyn Kelly that aired on Fox News Tuesday night, said he did have regrets about his actions during the Republican primary process.

"I could have used different language in a couple of instances, but overall I'm happy with the outcome," Trump said.

Clinton's sizeable lead in delegates means it is likely she will eventually be her party's nominee, but she remains more than 100 delegates short of sealing the deal.

Oregon also held its Democratic primary contest on Tuesday. For the Democrats, there are 55 delegates up for grabs in Kentucky and 61 in Oregon. All of the delegates are awarded proportionally, meaning the results could do little to upset the current trajectory of the Democratic race.

Tuesday's vote in Kentucky followed sometimes violent outbursts in Nevada that increased tensions within the party.

NEVADA STILL RANKLES Sanders supporters became angry when Nevada state party officials chose to end their convention and block efforts to award the U.S. senator from Vermont more delegates than he initially won in the February caucus. Clinton won the caucus.

The Nevada incident was a warning about the potential for fireworks at July's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Sanders on Tuesday joined his supporters in criticizing the Nevada Democratic Party after Saturday's events.

One Sanders supporter threw a chair, unhappy about being blocked in a rules vote that was part of the effort to help the senator win more delegates to the national convention. Others applied chalk graffiti to a party building. And the state's party chairwoman has been receiving death threats since then.

Sanders framed Nevada's incident as a warning.

"If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned," Sanders said in a statement on the Nevada incident.

Sanders - who said he condemns violence and personal harassment of individuals - leveled some of the same complaints his supporters did, arguing that state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange did not allow a headcount on a disputed rules change. He also argued that 64 delegates to the state convention were not given a hearing before being ruled ineligible.

The state party disputed the Sanders campaign's interpretation of the events. It said some delegates did not show up at the convention and others were disqualified because they were not registered as Democrats in time.

"The Sanders campaign is continuing to be dishonest about what happened Saturday and is failing to adequately denounce the threats of violence of his supporters," the Nevada Democratic Party said in a statement.

Sanders supporters began circulating a picture of Lange on the internet that included her cellphone number and encouraged others to contact her to express their unhappiness.

Lange said in an appearance on MSNBC that she has been receiving death threats, including many containing vulgar language. Public messages sent to her Twitter account included a barrage of derogatory statements.

MSNBC played some of the voicemails, including one saying "people like you should be hung in a public execution."

"What you heard is a few of the thousands of emails and texts and Facebook messages and Twitter messages that I've gotten," Lange said on MSNBC. "Threats to my family, to my grandson, to my husband.

WORRY ABOUT SANDERS

Sanders' continued presence in the race is prompting concerns among Clinton allies that he will damage her ability to take on Trump and hurt her in the fall.

But Sanders supporters shrug off that worry, arguing that Trump is such a flawed candidate that Clinton will easily dispatch with him if she faces him in the Nov. 8 election.

"Either way we're going to get a Democratic president," Alisha Liedtke, 28, a Sanders supporter from Ellensburg, Washington.

(Additional reporting by Luciana Lopez in New York and Doina Chiacu, John Whitesides and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Caren Bohan, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

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