History in hand, Clinton faces voters as likely nominee

Julie Pace and Ken Thomas
Associated Press

San Francisco —Already the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton pressed for victory in California and five other states Tuesday, while Bernie Sanders looked to play spoiler and cast doubts about Clinton’s historic achievement.

The Democratic race was coming to an end amid new turmoil in the Republican Party. House Speaker Paul Ryan chastised presumptive nominee Donald Trump for “textbook” racist comments but did not retract his endorsement of the businessman.

Clinton secured the 2,383 delegates she needed for the nomination on the eve of Tuesday’s voting, according to an Associated Press tally. Her total is comprised of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates — the party officials and officeholders who can back a candidate of their choosing.

“We are at the brink of a historic, historic unprecedented moment,” Clinton said during a rally in California on Monday.

Clinton wanted to wait until most of the voting was complete Tuesday night before fully reveling in becoming the first woman nominated by a major U.S. political party. She was to address supporters at a victory party in Brooklyn eight years to the day after she ended her first White House campaign.

Still, she was wasting no time moving toward the general election. Her campaign announced that she would make stops next week in Ohio and Pennsylvania, states that will be pivotal in November.

Sanders spent Tuesday making a final round of campaign stops in California, the biggest prize of the day. While a win in California would still leave him well short of overtaking Clinton in the delegate total, the Vermont senator hoped a win would help in his so-far-unsuccessful bid to get Clinton superdelegates to switch their support.

“I think we’ve got a shot,” Sanders said of his prospects in California after breakfast at a San Francisco cafe.

Superdelegates can switch before the party’s convention in late July, but those counted in Clinton’s total told the AP they were unequivocally supporting her.

Trump has stunned a host of experienced Republican candidates in the GOP primaries this year. But since vanquishing his last opponents about a month ago, he has continued to make controversial statements, frustrating party leaders who hoped he might moderate in the general election.

The latest cause for GOP concern is Trump’s refusal to back down from his assertion that a judge of Mexican descent would not treat him fairly in a lawsuit involving the businessman.

Ryan said Trump’s assertion was the “textbook definition of a racist comment,” but stood by his endorsement of Trump, as did most Republicans.

However, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said Trump’s comments could fuel talk of a convention challenge to keep the real estate mogul from formally claiming the party’s nomination in July.

Trump planned a news conference Tuesday at his golf resort in Westchester County, New York.

His shaky support among Republicans stands in stark contrast to the Democratic leadership now mobilizing behind Clinton.

The former secretary of state, first lady and New York senator secured support Tuesday from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents California and said she would vote for Clinton in her home state. Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman on Capitol Hill, avoided endorsing for months and has praised both Clinton and Sanders.

Clinton will also soon have help on the campaign trail from President Barack Obama. Her 2008 foe is to endorse her as early as this week, a move meant to signal to Sanders and his supporters that it’s time to unify behind her.

Obama and Sanders spoke by phone Sunday. While the content of the call is unknown, Sanders did appear to slightly soften his rhetoric the next day, saying he would return to Vermont after the California contest and “assess where we are.”

Sanders’ achievements have been remarkable for a candidate who was unknown to most Americans before the 2016 campaign. He has drawn massive crowds to rallies around the country and built a fundraising juggernaut based largely on small donations online. The Vermont senator has been particularly popular with young voters, an important piece of the Democratic coalition.

Still, Clinton’s victory has been broadly decisive. She leads Sanders by more than 3 million cast votes, by 291 pledged delegates and by 523 superdelegates. She won 29 caucuses and primaries in states and U.S. territories to his 21 victories.

Heading into Tuesday’s voting, Clinton had 1,812 pledged delegates and the support of 571 of the 714 superdelegates, according to the AP count. The AP surveyed the superdelegates repeatedly in the past seven months.

“I think the math is unforgiving,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a Clinton supporter. She said she’s hopeful Sanders will “help us focus on making sure Donald Trump never sets foot in the Oval Office.”

New Jersey and California are the biggest prizes up for grabs Tuesday, with Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota also holding contests. The final Democratic primary will be held next week in the District of Columbia.