Hillary Clinton has secured enough delegates to be the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, according to an updated count by The Associated Press. She is the first woman ever to head a major-party ticket in this country.
New superdelegate commitments, party leaders and elected officials, have put her over the threshold of 2,383 necessary to be the nominee. She was widely expected to cross the threshold Tuesday when polls closed at 8 p.m. ET in New Jersey, as she was just 23 delegates short. But the AP canvassed more undeclared superdelegates and enough came forward to publicly declare their support for Clinton on Monday night ahead of voting Tuesday.
Tuesday will see one of the biggest voting days of the Democratic primary with 694 delegates at stake, including 475 in California. Clinton and Sanders have been campaigning hard in California in what polls have shown to be a neck-and-neck race.
The Clinton campaign is stressing this is an "important milestone," but it doesn't want voters to be discouraged from going to the polls Tuesday, especially in California.
"This is an important milestone, but there are six states that are voting Tuesday, with millions of people heading to the polls, and Hillary Clinton is working to earn every vote," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a written statement. "We look forward to Tuesday night, when Hillary Clinton will clinch not only a win in the popular vote, but also the majority of pledged delegates."
The Sanders campaign, for its part, called the declaration "unfortunate" and a "rush to judgment" and is again declaring to take his fight all the way to the Democratic National Convention this summer:
"It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgement, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee's clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer. Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination. She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then. They include more than 400 superdelegates who endorsed Secretary Clinton 10 months before the first caucuses and primaries and long before any other candidate was in the race.
"Our job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump."
(Just as a point of fact, and we'll get into superdelegates more further down, but while Clinton had a sizable lead with superdelegates in this campaign, "more than 400" did not come out for her publicly 10 months before the election. The first major sweep done by the AP was in November 2015 — three months before the first voting began, and Clinton had a 359-to-8 lead.)
Most caveats are no longer necessary — with one hitch: Clinton is not officially the nominee. That won't happen until delegates actually vote at the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. (Donald Trump, for that matter, won't officially be the Republican nominee, either, until voting at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.)
Those Pesky Superdelegates
It won't be without controversy, however. Sanders supporters argue it is "misleading," "unfair," and even a "lie" that news networks would declare Clinton the winner because "superdelegates" don't officially vote until the convention.
Well, it's true that superdelegates don't vote until the convention. But neither do ANY of the delegates. If that were the standard, Trump wouldn't be the "presumptive nominee" for the Republicans, either, because "unbound" delegates put him over the top. (Those are delegates who don't have to vote at the convention based on the voting in their state primary and caucus contests.)
The reason NPR includes superdelegates in our count, which comes to us via the AP, either for Clinton or Sanders is because these officials have publicly pledged their support to one or the other candidate.
The 2016 Democratic contest is, in fact, unique in the sense that superdelegates, which were introduced in 1984, have always been included in counts. The focus has never so strongly before been on PLEDGED delegates. By that count, by the way, Clinton has a 291-delegate lead (1,812 to 1,521).
The reason for the focus on pledged delegates is because early on in this contest, the Sanders campaign, facing such a deficit with superdelegates — he's never been a Democrat before this year — said it would be unfair for superdelegates to put Clinton over the top, even if Sanders beat her with the "will of the people."
Winning With Pledged Delegates
Instead, what is all but certain to play out after Tuesday is Clinton will have defeated Sanders soundly with primary voters over the course of this campaign, by far more delegates than Obama did in 2008. Obama finished just 69 delegates ahead of Clinton in 2008, and Clinton won the popular vote against Obama.
What's more, Clinton's current pledged-delegate lead (291) is bigger than what Obama had over her OVERALL (238.5). Overall, Clinton currently leads Sanders, including superdelegates, by 814.
It's true that neither candidate will cross the line with pledged delegates alone. If they split the 694 delegates at stake Tuesday, Clinton will be a couple hundred short.
But that's not the standard.
And it certainly doesn't mean it will be a "contested" convention, given that Clinton leads Sanders currently by 523 superdelegates (571 to 48).
Put in perspective, if the two candidates split the delegates Tuesday, Sanders would need 488 of the 714 superdelegates (68 percent) to flip or come out for him.
Sanders will try to make the case that he is the most electable candidate to take on Donald Trump.
While polls show that to be the case right now, superdelegates are sophisticated consumers of political information. They're pols themselves, or deeply involved in politics.
They know that Sanders' numbers are probably inflated to some extent, because he's not the nominee. If he were seen as the likely nominee, the scrutiny would go way up.
So without Sanders winning the pledged majority — or, frankly, Clinton being indicted or mortally wounded — there is very little rationale for them to switch.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Hillary Clinton has achieved a historic milestone tonight. By the Associated Press's count, Clinton now has enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination for president. She spoke a short time ago in Long Beach, Calif., and insisted she was looking forward to the primary there tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
HILLARY CLINTON: According to the news, we are on the brink of a historic, unprecedented moment. But we still have work to do, don't we?
CORNISH: We want to go now to NPR's Tamara Keith in Long Beach where Clinton wrapped up her event a short time ago. Hey there, Tamara. Can you hear me?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yeah, I am here, and I can hear you. I'm on the 405 now in the Clinton voter state headed to her next event.
CORNISH: All right, on the campaign trail - we're also joined by NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hey there, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Audie.
CORNISH: I want to go back to Tam for a minute because we heard just a little clip from Hillary Clinton earlier in our introduction. What else can you say about the reaction from her campaign?
KEITH: Yeah, so that was basically all she said about it. And then she went on with her stump speech, as per usual. The crowd was very excited about it, but it really was her standard stump speech. Her campaign manager Robby Mook just put out a statement. He says that this is an important milestone, but there are six more states voting Tuesday. They do not want people to think this is over. They want people to get out and vote tomorrow. And so the campaign is doing its very best to downplay this while also acknowledging that it is a pretty big deal.
CORNISH: That's the campaign, but you also mention her supporters being excited. So they heard some of this news. What were the reaction from people at the event?
KEITH: Well, some of them that I talked to were kind of (unintelligible), like, of course she clinched the nomination; we were expecting this all along. It happened a little bit sooner than maybe people were expecting. But it's sort of a funny thing because in the political and news media world, we've all been looking at when this moment might happen, and for regular voters and regular supporters of Clinton, it - they knew it was going to happen. They could see that the finish line was near. And they just weren't as obsessed about exactly when it would happen.
CORNISH: Domenico, help us understand this delegate count. Why did she reach this milestone tonight?
MONTANARO: Well, the AP went and re-canvased a whole bunch of superdelegates, and they've been very thorough about doing this. And Hillary Clinton was widely expected to cross this threshold tomorrow night once polls closed in New Jersey. About 8 o'clock she would likely be declared the presumptive nominee, which she is now.
What happened was AP found 23 more superdelegates - these unpledged party leaders and elected officials who were willing to come out and publicly declare their support for Hillary Clinton tonight. So that's what makes this whole rush and change of timing, you know, such a surprise and what wound up putting Hillary Clinton over the finish line and frankly why Hillary Clinton wasn't prepared (laughter) to do any kind of victory speech of anything because they were all preparing for that tomorrow night.
CORNISH: As Tamara mentioned, there's six more states voting Tuesday. So Domenico, I mean, what does this mean for tomorrow's contests? It's not like they're moot.
MONTANARO: Well, right, and as Tam mentioned Robby Mook putting out that statement saying that they wanted all of the voters to go and vote - this is a big day tomorrow. I mean, it's 694 delegates. Four-hundred-seventy-five of those at stake come from California - huge state delegate tranche. Bernie Sanders called it the big enchilada (laughter).
So they want to win California. That's the bottom line. Both of these campaigns have been going toe-to-toe there, been doing a lot of campaigning. And the last thing they want to feel like is the rug's been taken out, and there's not going to be an actual contest.
CORNISH: But you called it an enchilada. Do we have a number there, or like, why is that such a big deal?
MONTANARO: It's the largest tranche of delegates throughout the entire contest. So you've got 475 at stake. It's about a tenth of all the delegates at stake in the entire process. So think about the 57 states and territories that have voted in this contest. California's the biggie.
CORNISH: Tamara, I want to go back to you because over the last few days, the Sanders campaign has more than once uttered the phrase contested convention. So do you have any reaction from them tonight?
KEITH: Indeed I do. And they do plan - they're still talking about that. In a statement from Sanders' spokesman Michael Briggs, he says, it is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgment, are ignoring the Democratic National (inaudible) - that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer. Secretary Clinton (inaudible) and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination.
So they are not pleased with the AP's call. Sanders leading up to this had been saying that the media shouldn't call it, that superdelegates shouldn't count.
CORNISH: Domenico, let's talk about this a little bit more because the Sanders campaign has certainly talked about this being part of their plan, right? They've never - they haven't always said, oh, it's about the pledged delegates. They've said, it's about changing the minds of those superdelegates at the convention, which means California and other races tomorrow are very important to this strategy. Talk more about kind of this argument.
MONTANARO: Well, they used to say the pledged delegates mattered (laughter) until it was pretty much mathematically impossible for Bernie Sanders to win the majority of pledged delegates. And then suddenly the superdelegates started to matter more. Look; Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee barring some unforeseen circumstance, and she's been put over that line now.
Now, when it comes to superdelegates themselves and whether or not they should count, they have always counted in the past. These are the kind - these are people who have publicly declared coming out for that candidate. I know a lot of Sanders supporters don't like to hear that argument. They don't like to acknowledge that because all of them will vote officially in July. We're not saying she's the official candidate. You can't say that somebody's the official nominee at this point because that's what will happen in July at the convention on both sides.
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton now are both the presumptive nominees when they crossed that line for the amount of delegates that you can project out that will vote for either of those candidates.
CORNISH: And just to stay with you for one more moment, is this the moment to talk about this as a milestone, especially for a female candidate?
MONTANARO: I think undoubtedly. I mean, this is a major milestone, as the Clinton campaign said. But it is an historic moment. I mean, women didn't get the right to vote in this country until 1920 - less than a hundred years ago. And you know, Tam can talk about the fact that there have been women at these events crying because of how important this is to them and Hillary Clinton in the last few days talking about fathers being able to talk to their daughters about - you know, if you want to grow up to be president, you can.
Of course, Hillary Clinton not president at this point, but she - on her way to being the presumptive - to being the nominee for the Democratic party - it is an important moment in American history coming out of the first African-American being president of the United States.
CORNISH: And we'll hear more of that reporting from Tamara and Domenico. Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.
MONTANARO: Thank you.
CORNISH: We also heard from NPR's Tamara Keith on the news that Hillary Clinton has now secured the Democratic nomination by the count of the Associated Press. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.