Hillary Clinton made history Tuesday as the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major party in the U.S. But rival Bernie Sanders continued to hope voters across six states would give him momentum to make his case for the nomination at the party’s convention next month.
The Vermont senator is looking for an upset in California, the biggest primary prize in the country. Clinton notched wins in New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota while Sanders won the North Dakota caucuses. Montana hasn’t yet been called.
Even before all of the states’ polls had closed, Clinton was embracing the historic nature of her win after she officially crossed the superdelegate threshold to become the nominee late Monday evening, according to The Associated Press.
“Tonight’s victory is not about one person; it belongs to generations of women and men who sacrificed and made this moment possible,” Clinton told a cheering crowd in Brooklyn, N.Y., exactly eight years after she fell short in her first quest for the presidency to Barack Obama.
She thanked Sanders for the “vigorous debate” he and his supporters have spurred on economic inequality, calling it “good for the Democratic Party.”
But she was eager to look past the tougher-than-expected primary fight to the general election against presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president,” she declared. “He wants to win by stoking fear and rubbing salt into wounds and reminding us daily just how great he is.”
“When Trump says, ‘Let’s Make America Great Again,’ that’s code for ‘Let’s take America backwards,’ ” she said of his famed slogan.
Going into Tuesday, Clinton already had a wide lead over Sanders in both pledged delegates and the popular vote but had not expected to — or wanted to — cross that delegate threshold until Tuesday evening.
The pre-emptive declaration by AP also upset the Sanders campaign and his supporters, who are hoping to convince enough superdelegates to back his campaign before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next month. He argues that he is the stronger candidate in polls, but Clinton’s campaign has argued that his advantage over Trump is because Sanders hasn’t yet sustained the kind of attacks she has faced.
The White House announced late Tuesday night that President Obama had called both Clinton and Sanders and congratulated Clinton on securing the necessary delegates. They also announced that, “at Senator Sanders’ request, the President and Senator Sanders will meet at the White House on Thursday.”
Trump, who had no opposition in the night’s GOP primaries, used his perch Tuesday to debut a more focused general election message — something that will comfort Republicans who were on the defensive over Trump’s comments about the Mexican heritage of a judge presiding over the case involving his controversial Trump University.
Eschewing his usual off-the-cuff style for prepared remarks he read from a teleprompter, Trump told supporters gathered at one of his golf courses in New York that “tonight we close one chapter in history and begin another.”
“I will make you proud of our party and our movement,” Trump said in a speech that was far more toned-down than usual. “Some people say I am too much of a fighter, but my preference is always peace.”
He made a direct plea to Sanders supporters who he said had been “left out” by a “rigged” superdelegate system, and he debuted new attacks against his likely Democratic rival.
“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves,” Trump said, noting that he will give a major speech hitting the Democrat early next week.
National Democrats will surely increase the pressure on Sanders to end his campaign after Tuesday’s contests — especially if he does lose in California. Clinton’s campaign and other Democrats point out that at this point, her lead over Sanders is nearly three times larger than President Obama’s was over Clinton in their 2008 primary fight. With her wins Tuesday, she also claimed a majority of the pledged delegates throughout the campaign cycle.
At a press conference Monday afternoon in California, Sanders did seem to soften his resolve in soldiering on and wouldn’t directly address the future of his candidacy past Tuesday.
“Let’s assess where we are after tomorrow before we make statements based on speculation,” he told reporters. Sanders will hold a rally Tuesday evening in Santa Monica, Calif., and will then return to his home in Burlington, Vt.
“Our goal is to get as many delegates as we possibly can and to make the case to superdelegates,” he continued, dismissing questions from reporters as to whether he would be a “spoiler” if he stayed in the race even as Democrats are eager to look ahead to the November contest with Trump.
Sanders badly needs a victory in California, where 475 pledged delegates are up for grabs, to boost his argument that he has much broader appeal and more enthusiasm than Clinton.
The final Democratic primary is June 14, when Democrats in the District of Columbia will vote, and Sanders’ campaign announced he would hold a rally there Thursday.
But with Clinton’s speech and in a video unveiled earlier Tuesday, she was already looking ahead to November and reminding voters that she has broken one of the thickest glass ceilings in political history.