Hillary Clinton Claims Historic Victory in Democratic Primary

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Hillary Clinton

"Thanks to you we've reached a milestone," the presumptive party nominee told her supporters in New York.

Claiming her place in history, Hillary Clinton declared victory Tuesday night in her bruising battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming the first woman to lead a major American political party and casting herself as the beneficiary of generations who fought for equality.

"This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us," Clinton said during an emotional rally in Brooklyn, eight years to the day after she ended her first failed White House run. As she took the stage to raucous cheers, she paused to relish the moment, stretching her arms out wide and beaming broadly.

"Tonight's victory is not about one person," said Clinton. "It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible."

Clinton had already secured the delegates needed for the nomination, according to an Associated Press tally. She added to her totals with victories in New Jersey and New Mexico, two of the six states voting Tuesday.

Clinton faces a two-front challenge in the coming days. She must appeal to the enthusiastic supporters of her rival Bernie Sanders — who insists he still has a narrow path to the nomination — and sharpen her contrasts with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

She sought to make progress on both, using her own loss in 2008 to connect with Sanders' backers and was biting and sarcastic as she took on Trump, previewing a tough general-election campaign.

She called out the billionaire for divisive rhetoric, casting his "Make America Great Again" slogan as "code for let's take America backward" and told her supporters that Trump was "temperamentally unfit" to be president, citing his attacks on a federal judge, reporters and women.

"He wants to win by stoking fear and rubbing salt in wounds and reminding us daily just how great he is," Clinton said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Well, we believe we should lift each other up, not tear each other down."

The Democratic race was ending amid new turmoil among the Republicans. GOP leaders recoiled at Trump's comments about a Hispanic judge, with one senator even pulling his endorsement.

Trump capped his difficult day with victories in New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and Montana. He was muted at his victory rally, saying he understands "the responsibility" of leading the Republican Party. He also made a direct appeal to dejected Sanders supporters and other Democrats.

"This election isn't about Republican or Democrat, it's about who runs this country: the special interests or the people," he said. Trump vowed to deliver a major speech next week on Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Clinton's win in New Jersey came a day after she secured the 2,383 delegates she needed to become first female presumptive nominee of a major political party. Her total includes pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates — the party officials and officeholders who can back a candidate of their choosing.

Clinton and Sanders were both pressing for victory in California, each eager to effectively end their primary battle on a high note. However, the California results might not be known Tuesday night; more than half of Californians vote by mail, and the deadline for returned ballots isn't until Friday, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

Sanders picked up a win in North Dakota, where a handful of delegates were up for grabs. Montana also was holding a primary Tuesday.

Sanders hoped a victory would help in his so-far unsuccessful bid to get Clinton superdelegates to switch their support. Asked on NBC whether he was continuing that effort, he said, "We are. We're on the phone right now."

The superdelegates who were counted in Clinton's total told the AP they were unequivocally supporting her.

Trump, after vanquishing his last opponents about a month ago, has continued to make controversial statements, frustrating party leaders.

The latest cause for GOP concern was his insistence that a judge handling a legal case involving the businessman was being unfair in his rulings. Trump has said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel can't be impartial because the jurist's parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who is locked in a close re-election fight, became the first lawmaker to pull his endorsement of Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the businessman's assertion was the "textbook definition of a racist comment" but he would continue to support Trump.

Trump released a statement saying he does "not feel one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial." But he still questioned whether he was receiving fair treatment in the case involving the now-defunct Trump University.

Clinton will 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' campaign has appeared to slightly soften its rhetoric since the call.

After her win in New Jersey, Clinton had 2,441 delegates to Sanders' 1,616. That count includes both pledged delegates and superdelegates.

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