Hillary Clinton became the first woman to capture the presidential nomination of one of the country’s major political parties on Monday night, according to an Associated Press survey of Democratic superdelegates, securing enough of them to overcome a bruising challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders and turn to a brutal five-month campaign against Donald Trump.
Almost eight years after she ended her campaign against Barack Obama before a crowd with many teary women and girls, Clinton signaled the news to a jubilant crowd at a campaign stop in Long Beach, California.
“I got to tell you, according to the news, we are on the brink of a historic, historic, unprecedented moment, but we still have work to do, don’t we?” she said. “We have six elections tomorrow, and we’re going to fight hard for every single vote, especially right here in California.”
Like Obama eight years ago, Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination with the support of hundreds of superdelegates — the party insiders, Democratic officials, members of Congress, major donors and others who help select the nominee. Under Democratic rules, these superdelegates — approximately 720 in all — are allowed to back any candidate they wish and can change their allegiance any time before the convention in July.
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Clinton has had relationships with many of the superdelegates for years, and her campaign began seeking their support as soon as she entered the race last spring. Sanders, by contrast, has struggled to win their backing.
Both Clinton and Sanders competed most aggressively for so-called pledged delegates — the roughly 4,000 delegates that are won through state primaries and caucuses.
The AP declared Clinton the presumptive nominee by reaching out to superdelegates who had not announced which candidate they were supporting, and confirming that enough were backing Clinton to get her to the magic number of 2,383.
The timing of the AP alert that Clinton had reached the threshold was unusual, coming on the eve of six primaries, including the big states of New Jersey and California on Tuesday.
Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, called the AP’s call “an important milestone” but indicated that Clinton did not intend to declare victory until Tuesday night, when she “will clinch not only a win in the popular vote, but also the majority of pledged delegates.”
Advisers to Sanders took a dim view of the math. Sanders has previously said he would lobby Clinton superdelegates to shift their support to him by arguing that he is the party’s best chances to defeat Trump, and he particularly plans to target those superdelegates who represent states where Sanders won primaries and caucuses.
The advisers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Sanders was aiming to win the California primary on Tuesday to bolster his argument to superdelegates that he is the stronger and more popular candidate than Clinton.
“It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgment, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee’s clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer,” Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman, said in a statement.
“Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” the statement continued.
“She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then.”
Asked on a visit on Monday morning to a community center in Compton, California, about being on the cusp of making history, Clinton said, “I’m not letting myself focus on it yet,” but, she added, “It’s been an incredible journey.”
Indeed, becoming her party’s presumptive nominee is the latest chapter in a remarkable career that has taken Clinton from being the first lady to being one election away from returning to the White House as president.
Clinton planned a victory rally on Tuesday in Brooklyn, New York, but by the time the AP called the contest, she seemed to already be in a celebratory mood, ending a campaign slog that had been expected to come to a close after the early contests but dragged on to just before the final votes were tallied, at a “She’s With Us” concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles with John Legend, Christina Aguilera and Stevie Wonder.
Clinton had for weeks hardly hid her eagerness to put the slog of a primary against Sanders behind her and to turn her full focus to the presumptive Republican nominee, Trump.
Talking to voters at the Hawkins House of Burgers in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Clinton promised to take on Trump “all the time” and she urged Sanders’ supporters to consider the consequences if the real estate developer were to capture the White House.
“Anyone who’s supported me and anyone who’s supported Sen. Sanders has a lot at stake in this election in preventing Donald Trump from being president, which I can barely say,” she told reporters Monday.
But Clinton must also work in the coming weeks to improve her own standing with voters, both with Sanders’ hordes of young supporters and with a majority of registered voters who say they do not like or trust her.
Still, many Democratic allies of Clinton did not want to wait until Tuesday’s primaries to celebrate, writing Twitter posts and issuing statements hailing her as the nominee and trying to shift the Democratic Party’s focus and the national political conversation to take aim at Trump.
“What a historic night. By nominating Secretary Clinton, we’re showing that we are the party of common sense because we are the party of progress,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, D-Conn., an aggressive backer of Clinton who landed some of the toughest punches against Sanders.
Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor who now advises a pro-Clinton super PAC, said in an email: “It’s beyond words; incredibly moving for me personally — but premature. We don’t want to crush democracy. Still six states tomorrow whose votes must be counted. It’s crucial to encourage people to vote.”