WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination Monday night with timely help from Democratic Party insiders, shattering a glass ceiling to become the first woman in American history to top a major party ticket.
“This is an important milestone,” said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook in a statement.
The campaign of Bernie Sanders did not concede and the Vermont senator signaled his intention to continue contesting the nomination. But it is now a virtual certainty that Clinton will face presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in November — another historic candidate because of his nonpolitical background. The contest is shaping up to be one of the nastiest campaigns in a generation.
Clinton reached the 2,383-delegate figure needed to be the Democratic nominee after winning contests in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands over the weekend and after previously undeclared “superdelegates’’ — party officials who are not bound by voting in individual states and territories — told the Associated Press for the first time Monday that they’d back Clinton.
Her tally includes the 1,812 pledged delegates she won in primaries and caucuses along with the support of 571 superdelegates, according to an AP count.
The superdelegates will not cast their official votes until the party’s convention in July, but they’ve repeatedly reaffirmed their intended support for Clinton to the AP in the news agency’s surveys. When Barack Obama was declared the presumptive nominee in 2008 he also relied on the pledges of support from superdelegates to get to the magic number.
Clinton has won 29 states and territories to Sanders’ 21, with 300 more pledged delegates. She has 13 million overall votes to Sanders’ 10 million.
The news comes hours before voting is set to begin in California and five other states that cast ballots on Tuesday, the last balloting besides the District of Columbia, which caps the primary season next week.
“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,” Mook said.
Most expected that Clinton would cross the finish line Tuesday evening when returns from New Jersey arrived. Instead, it came a day earlier.
In a San Francisco rally, Sanders made no mention of Clinton’s victory. His campaign, however, struck a defiant note, issuing a statement about an hour after Clinton’s news broke saying he does not accept her delegate tally as final.
“Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs in a statement.
“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,” he said.
Sanders has been hoping that a win in California would give him fresh ammunition to persuade Clinton’s superdelegates to switch their vote. He’s held rallies in more than 30 cities in the state, with tens of thousands of people coming out to hear his message of political revolution.
It has been clear for weeks that Sanders’ path to the nomination had all but evaporated, but Clinton’s team has been hesitant to pressure him out of the race. Her campaign doesn’t want to offend his millions of supporters whose votes she will need in November.
Still, his iconoclastic campaign has had a huge effect on the race, forcing Clinton to move to the left on issues including trade, the environment, and the minimum wage. The tens of millions of dollars that he raised online from small donors showed that it is possible to mount a credible presidential level campaign without the backing of the party’s monied elite.
Trump did not respond publicly to Clinton’s big moment. But he did slam her in one of his tweets: “A former Secret Service Agent for President Clinton excoriates Crooked Hillary describing her as ERRATIC & VIOLENT. Bad temperament for pres.’’
Making history is not new for Clinton. She carved out a highly public and policy-oriented role as first lady. Then she became the first former first lady to win a Senate seat.
Her path to the nomination has lasted at least a decade — with some advisers plotting her presidential run as soon as she won reelection to her New York Senate seat in 2006.
She was favored to win the nomination when she first tried in 2007, but was outmatched by Obama’s campaign of hope and change.
Clinton stayed in the contest well after it was clear that she would lose the primary and finally conceded the race on June 7, 2008, during a speech in Washington.
“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” Clinton said in one of the most memorable speeches of that campaign. “And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
Clinton then returned to her post in the Senate. She said that she was surprised when Obama asked if she wanted to be his secretary of state.
The role gave her a lifeline back to national prominence and her popularity soared as she crisscrossed the world, visiting 112 countries. Her fluency in international affairs is admired widely.
However, her time at Foggy Bottom produced some of the headaches for the campaign.
She decided to use a private e-mail server — set up in her home — instead of the State Department system. The unorthodox arrangement has prompted several investigations.
And, while Clinton led the Department of State, the Clinton family foundation received millions of dollars in new donations from foreign governments — at times without disclosing the gifts. Clinton had pledged repeatedly during her confirmation hearings that potential conflicts would be disclosed. In at least one case, the State Department helped facilitate a project that was a priority of the family’s charity.
She also was on duty on Sept. 11, 2012, when four Americans, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
A House select committee formed to investigate what went wrong on that day is expected to release a report soon.