Hillary Clinton declared a historic victory for women Tuesday as she grasped the Democratic Party nomination and the chance to become America’s first female president.
“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone,” a beaming Clinton told ecstatic supporters in New York: “the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee.”
The former first lady took a dramatic step toward the White House by winning New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota, three of six states voting on the last major date of the 2016 primary calendar.
The biggest prize of all, California, was still up for grabs, but with polls closed there and 40 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton held a substantial lead.
The victories effectively put an end to her battle with challenger Bernie Sanders, the self-declared democratic socialist senator from Vermont who waged an extraordinarily successful grassroots campaign.
But Sanders, ignoring the political writing on the wall, vowed to “continue the fight.”
“Our mission is more than just defeating Donald Trump, it is transforming our country,” he declared to supporters in Santa Monica, California.
Clinton’s triumph came almost eight years to the day since her first Oval Office bid was spectacularly thwarted by a charismatic young senator named Barack Obama.
Two terms later, the 68-year-old declared another glass ceiling broken, setting up a colossal showdown in November with Trump, the bombastic Republican flagbearer.
“We believe that we are stronger together and the stakes in this election are high, and the choice is clear,” she said, before launching into a frontal attack on her Republican rival.
“Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief,” she said, using rhetoric that would have been unthinkable before this tempestuous election season.
– Bernie or bust? –
Clinton held a commanding lead over Sanders even before Tuesday’s votes, having passed the magic number of 2,383 delegates required to clinch the nomination.
But like Obama before her, Clinton must now reconcile a bruised and deeply divided party and rally it behind her in the brutal match against Trump.
Sanders has harnessed a tidal wave of anger at the ruling political class.
With an insurgent campaign he challenged Clinton harder for the party nomination than most believed was possible.
“I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for an extraordinary campaign,” Clinton said, touching on the watchwords of her rival — inequality and upward mobility.
“It never feels good to put your heart into a cause,” she said, “and to come up short.”
The drive for party unity is likely to receive another shot in the arm when Obama comes off the sidelines and offers his own endorsement of Clinton, as soon as Wednesday.
That will not come as a surprise, but it could serve to coax hardline “Bernie or bust” fans back into the party tent.
Obama has approval ratings above 80 percent with liberal democrats who make up the bulk of Sanders’ support.
The White House announced that Obama telephoned both candidates to congratulate them on their hard-fought primary race, and said the president would meet with Sanders on Thursday, “at Sanders’ request,” at the White House.
– Trump on offensive –
Trump, who himself crossed the Republican threshold Tuesday although it was a foregone conclusion, signaled Tuesday he plans to go on the offensive against Hillary and Bill Clinton.
“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves,” he told supporters at his golf property in New York state.
“They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts.”
Trump said he will deliver a “a major speech” early next week when he will be “discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
“I think you’re going to find it very informative and very very interesting.”
Clinton remains mired in scandal about her use of a private email server as secretary of state and perceptions of dishonesty — leaving her with unpopularity ratings surpassed only by the controversial Trump.
The billionaire has faltered badly since he won the Republican nomination, with violence-marred rallies, run-ins with the press and a widely condemned attack on a Mexican-American federal judge who is investigating his now-defunct Trump University.
Leaders of Trump’s own Republican Party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, described that as textbook racism.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the presumptive Republican nominee to “quit attacking… various minority groups in the country and get on message.”