Powered by a solid triumph in California, Hillary Clinton declared victory in her yearlong battle for the heart of the Democratic Party, seizing her place in history and setting out on the difficult task of fusing a fractured party to confront Donald Trump.
Clinton cruised to easy victories in four of the six state contests on Tuesday.
With each win she further solidified Senator Bernie Sanders’ defeat and dashed his already slim chances of using the last night of state contests to refuel his flagging bid.
The victories allowed Clinton to celebrate her long-sought “milestone” — the first woman poised to lead a major political party’s presidential ticket. Standing before a flag-waving crowd in Brooklyn, the former secretary of state soaked up the cheers and beamed.
“Barriers can come down. Justice and equality can win,” she said. “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us. This is our moment to come together.”
Clinton had already secured the delegates needed for the nomination before Tuesday’s contests, according to an Associated Press tally.
Don’t let anyone tell you great things can’t happen in America. Barriers can come down. Justice & equality can win.https://t.co/5xcwapDvPJ— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 8, 2016
Still, Sanders had hoped to use a victory in California to persuade party insiders to switch their allegiances. Sanders picked up wins in Montana and North Dakota, but Clinton won substantially in California.
Sanders nonetheless vowed to continue to his campaign to the last contest in the District of Columbia next Tuesday. “The struggle continues,” he said.
Clinton’s victory in California assured her a majority of pledged delegates — those chosen in primaries and caucuses.
That’s notable because Sanders has argued that his White House bid remained viable as long as he stood a chance of winning a majority of those delegates. He would have needed a landslide on Tuesday to reach that goal.
Sanders is under intense pressure from top Democrats hoping to coax him gently out of the race, win over his voters and turn to the task of challenging Trump.
Despite the pledge to soldier on, there were signs Sanders was listening. In his typically passionate remarks, the socialist firebrand repeatedly noted “we are in this together” and argued a tenet of his campaign was that “we will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government.”
Sanders said he called Clinton to congratulate her on the victories. The senator planned to go to Washington today for meetings and a campaign rally.
President Barack Obama called both Sanders and Clinton late on Tuesday, congratulating both on their campaigns.
The White House said Sanders and Obama would meet today, at Sanders’ request, to discuss “how to build on the extraordinary work he has done to engage millions of Democratic voters, and to build on that enthusiasm.”
Clinton and Sanders are also expected to connect in the coming days, Clinton’s spokesman said. Their campaign managers spoke earlier in the day, signalling that conversations were underway about the road ahead.
As the Democratic race was wrapping up, Republicans were unravelling anew.
Despite handily winning Republican contests in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and Montana, presumptive nominee Trump was in damage control mode over his race-based attacks on a Hispanic judge that had party leaders in fits.
After one senator rescinded his endorsement and House Speaker Paul Ryan called the comments “racist,” Trump sought to calm worries with a rare, scripted victory speech.
“I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never, ever let you down — too much work, too many people, blood, sweat and tears,” Trump said, reading from a teleprompter at a rally at one of his golf courses in suburban New York City.
“I will make you proud of your party and our movement, and that’s what it is, is a movement.”
Trump went on to preview what Clinton has ahead of her: He blasted her as the defender of a “rigged” political system.
He promised to deliver a longer speech on the Clintons “probably Monday.”
“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves. They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favours, selling government contracts, and I mean hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
While Trump sought to portray himself as a unifier during his evening speech — drawing plaudits from Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus for taking “exactly the right approach” — hours earlier, he continued to be strikingly defiant.
In an interview on Fox News, Trump said Republicans angry at him should “get over it.” In his statement on the matter earlier, he said he’d been “misconstrued” and that he was “justified in questioning” treatment by the judge.
The controversy erupted because Trump repeatedly said US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not preside fairly over a case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage.
Many Republicans didn’t see it that way, and the desire of his party to unify behind him looked at risk of unfurling.
“I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world,” Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is in a competitive re-election race, said in a statement.
Trump’s comments about the judge’s ethnicity, “in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me,” prompted Kirk to withdraw his support for his party’s nominee, he said, though he also added he does not support Clinton.
Sanders’ goals were big winners in Democrat race
Bernie Sanders’ upstart US presidential campaign may be over, but his goals of reining in Wall Street, ending big money in politics and eradicating income inequality were the big winners in the bruising Democratic race.
Sanders, who started as a little-known long-shot, pushed the party and established front-runner Hillary Clinton sharply to the left during a long primary battle.
Along the way, the 74-year-old US senator from Vermont energised young and progressive voters and prepared the ground for what his allies predict will be a lasting influence on the party.
Clinton, one of the best-known political figures in the United States, clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination in a last round of state nominating contests.
But even before her victory, Sanders began taking steps to turn his newfound political influence into an enduring progressive movement.
In the last few weeks, he has lent his influence and fundraising power to progressive congressional and state legislative candidates who share his agenda, urging his supporters around the country to donate to their campaigns.
Sanders also appointed prominent activists to the panel writing the issues platform for the party’s convention in July, ensuring a strong voice in the process.
His convention delegates will push for changes to party primary rules, including letting independents vote in primaries and reducing the influence of superdelegates, the hundreds of party elites who can support any candidate regardless of voting in their constituencies, and who in this primary season have largely backed Clinton.
“I do think we are going to see real changes in the Democratic Party going forward because of Bernie. The future of the party is with the people supporting Sanders,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal Vermont-based group that rose from Howard Dean’s failed 2004 presidential bid and endorsed Sanders this time.
“He has proven the power of this message,” Chamberlain said.
During the campaign, Sanders forced Clinton to tack left repeatedly on issues ranging from her support for a higher minimum wage to her opposition to the Asian trade pact and Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Sanders’ progressive allies said that those shifts by Clinton will be helpful in the November 8 election against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has touted an anti-trade and pro-jobs economic agenda, and for the Democrats in their efforts to recapture a majority in the US Senate.
If Democrats win back the Senate in the November election, Sanders will be in line for either the chairmanship of the budget committee or the health, education, labor and pensions committee, both powerful platforms to advance his ideas.
Chamberlain said Sanders would create a formidable one-two punch in the Senate with Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator who has been the leader of the party’s progressive wing.