Clinton's clarifying moment streaked by uncertainty over Sanders
'What's Clinton going to do about Bernie?' Democrats ask, as Vermont senator vows to fight on
It was a clarifying night for Hillary Clinton, albeit a frustrating one for her party.
The former U.S. secretary of state finally clinched the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday, crossing the "magic number" threshold of 2,383 delegates after primaries in six states, including delegate-rich California.
- ANALYSIS | Éric Grenier: Clinton leads Trump in the all-important electoral college, polls suggest
- Trump 'cannot do the job': Hillary Clinton
- Clinton ready to be Democratic nominee, Sanders not ready to concede
Unequivocally, the Democratic party nomination is now hers. Before a wild crowd at her Brooklyn campaign headquarters, Clinton, noting she was standing in a room "under a glass ceiling," declared herself the first woman in the U.S. to top a major-party ticket.
Based on primaries and caucuses to date, not counting California where results aren't yet official, Clinton has now won 1,898 pledged delegates to Sanders' 1,589, according to an Associated Press tally. After factoring in superdelegates, her lead rises to 2,469 to 1,637 for Sanders.
"The choice is clear," Clinton said, attacking her Republican rival Donald Trump as "temperamentally unfit" to be president.
Still unclear for the Democrats, however, is how long Clinton's opponent Bernie Sanders will continue to challenge her in a contest that's virtually over, and to what end.
The Vermont senator took in nearly seven million individual contributions to run an impressive grassroots campaign, one that he vowed he would roll through to next month's convention in Philadelphia.
Ever defiant, the 74-year-old Sanders reiterated his intentions to make good on that promise last night.
"Next Tuesday, we continue the fight in the last primary in Washington, D.C.," he said in Santa Monica, Calif., as the room roared in approval.
But Democrats eager to see a unified party by the fall are losing patience, said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento.
Five months remain until November's general election and a face-off with Trump, who won at least 297 delegates on Tuesday in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and Montana.
Trump has 1,536 delegates. He has surpassed the 1,237 needed to win the Republican nomination for president.
Central to Sanders's argument for remaining in this race is that he expects to be able to flip a large number of Clinton-leaning "superdelegates" — those Democratic party insiders who are not bound to voting according to outcomes of specific state elections, and who could in theory change their minds when the convention opens on July 25.
But Sanders has yet to have persuaded any superdelegates to switch allegiances to him. And critics of the strategy argue it's un-democratic, allowing party officials to over-rule the will of people who elected the pledged delegates.
Sanders's declaration on Tuesday to continue campaigning for the nomination only muddled things further, Maviglio said.
"It was a mixed message. He's saying, 'We won't elect Donald Trump,' but he won't drop out?" he said. "Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are running against Hillary Clinton right now."
'The big enchilada'
Some measure of closure for these primaries would at least open the way for an anticipated endorsement from U.S. President Barack Obama. The White House said the president agreed to meet with Sanders on Thursday at Sanders's request.
Unity must now be the goal now, Maviglio said.
"At this point in the game, every moment that Hillary Clinton has to spend fighting off Bernie Sanders is a moment she can't spend trying to beat Donald Trump."
Results in Maviglio's home state of California could deliver some finality. The Golden State was the big prize on Tuesday, with a haul of 475 pledged delegates. Sanders has called it "the big enchilada."
If the projections are matched by final results, a Clinton victory in California would launch her into next month's convention with wind in her sails.
In the end, Clinton didn't need California to claim the party nomination. She effectively won the war before needing to win any of Tuesday's five other battles — in Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota or South Dakota.
The Associated Press and other media outlets made the call to anoint Clinton as the nominee on Monday, a full day before polls closed last night. Surveys of so-called superdelegates indicated Clinton already had more than enough of their backing to win the nomination.
- Obama expected to endorse Hillary Clinton this week
- No, Hillary Clinton hasn't dropped out of race (sorry, Facebook)
Not counting the estimated five million mail-in ballots, California polls early Wednesday morning suggested Clinton would win the state.
But that won't necessarily deliver voters to her in the general election.
"People are talking about what's Clinton going to do now," longtime L.A. Democratic strategist Darry Sragow said. "The other half of it is, what's Clinton going to do about Bernie?"
Offering up party platform concessions is one way to potentially placate Sanders and his supporters. Clinton's speech praised Sanders for igniting a "vigorous debate" on "how to raise incomes, reduce inequality and increase upwards mobility," the kind of rhetoric the Vermont senator has used to describe his mission for a transformational economy.
Even so, a smattering of Sanders's platform items on a revised party agenda may not be enough to retain Democrats like Michael Ruvinsky.The 42-year-old L.A.-based actor was an independent voter for 16 years until Sanders ran as a Democrat.
"As long as Bernie Sanders is a Democrat, then I'm in," he said. "As someone who votes for third-party candidates, I would vote for Sanders as a Democrat, but I can't bring myself to vote for either Clinton or Trump."
Some progressive-leaning Sanders supporters feel at home with Jill Stein's Green Party. Still others could be attracted by socially liberal values espoused by Gary Johnson's Libertarian Party.
Trump also made a play for displaced Sanders supporters on Tuesday night.
"To all of those Bernie Sanders voters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms," he said.
Judging from the full-throated boos that erupted when Sanders mentioned Clinton by name last night, though, wooing Sanders supporters to stick with the Democrats in the general election will not be easy. Not even if Sanders comes out to endorse Clinton, said Charles Lenchner, a political consultant and co-founder of the People for Bernie grassroots social-media project.
"The political class is like, 'What's Bernie's plan for unity? I'm here to tell you I'm not sure we care what Bernie's plan is," Lenchner said. "The grassroots were mobilized by him, but Bernie doesn't control the grassroots."