Hillary Clinton claimed victory on Tuesday as the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major political party, savoring the history she had made 96 years after American women first won the right to vote.
“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone,” Clinton told a screaming crowd in Brooklyn. “Don’t let anyone tell you that great things can’t happen in America. Barriers can come down.”
For Clinton, it was an emotional moment that culminates a remarkable, decades-long career in politics in which she sometimes struggled to escape the long shadow of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. With the klieg lights on her — and Bill Clinton off-stage — the evening at the center of a Brooklyn warehouse was her one-woman show that is perhaps a preview of America’s next four years.
The White House announced that President Obama had phoned Clinton on her victory. “Her historic campaign inspired millions and is an extension of her lifelong fight for middle-class families and children.”
Flush with victory and relishing the exuberant crowd, Clinton thrust her arms up and mouthed her thanks for several minutes before telling her supporters she had won a majority of the delegates decided by voters. It was a key development for the coming intra-party fight that rival Bernie Sanders plans on waging all the way to the nominating convention in Philadelphia. Sanders now has lost all chance of winning the Democratic nomination through a popular vote, but he still could persuade superdelegates, who overwhelmingly back Clinton, to switch allegiances.
Clinton paid it little heed. “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us,” she said in a speech that always seemed to teeter on all emotion breaking loose.
With a bruising primary behind her and an arduous general election battle ahead, Clinton now stands in the eye of a hurricane. Her aides are bracing for a brutal campaign against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. But for the moment, those aides and advisers took a moment to relish in the history they had helped create.
On Monday, as the Associated Press unexpectedly published its tally of delegates that named Clinton the presumptive nominee, campaign chief Robby Mook climbed atop a desk in his sneakers and popped a bottle of sparkling wine. A day later, in audience heavy on Clinton aides and their families, staffers sipped beer and wine while they waited for Clinton to arrive. They were checking their mobile devices less frequently than they had in months. “I forgot what it was like to have a conversation that wasn’t illuminated by an iPhone screen,” joked one staffer.
Before Clinton’s motorcade arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, her soundtrack was heavy on female themes: No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl,” Britney Spears’ “Stronger,” Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women,” Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter.” Supporters were eager to cheer Clinton in the coming fight against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was expected to win all of his primaries on Tuesday.
Clinton, too, was taking a minute to enjoy the moment. “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us,” she said. “I am going to take a moment to fully absorb the history we’ve made here.” Then, never one to dilly-dally, she is scheduled to head to campaign in swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania at the start of next week. Her work to defeat Trump starts now, and it would be far easier if she were confident that Sanders’ supporters were with her.
“Let there be no mistake: Senator Sanders, his campaign and the vigorous debate that we’ve had about how to raise income, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility, have been very good for the Democratic Party and for America,” Clinton said.
Clinton was deferential to Sanders even as she took her victory, praising his supporters for joining the political process and pushing progressive issues to the fore. She hinted that she might co-opt those ideas in a bid to woo Sanders’ allies. But she also flatly made clear that her campaign against him was over. “We all need to keep working toward a better, fairer, stronger America,” Clinton said. “We believe that we are stronger together, and the stakes in this election is high and the choice is clear.”
She urged Sanders’ supporters to link arms with her in a fight against Trump, even though the Sanders-istas were still stinging from the loss. “I know it never feels good to pour your heart into a candidate or a cause and come up short. I know that feeling well,” she said, eight years to the day she conceded the 2008 campaign to Barack Obama.
There was unlikely to be such an exit from Sanders, who scheduled a speech in California for 1 a.m. on East Coast. President Obama called him on Sunday to take his temperature, and phoned him again Tuesday night. Sanders planned to lay off about half of his remaining staff later this week, but asked for a meeting with Obama. The pair is set to meet on Thursday.
“We believe cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls,” Clinton told the crowd.
Clinton claimed wins in New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Montana was just starting to count its ballots. The biggest pot of delegates, however, was California, and polls there suggested a tight race as of midnight on Tuesday. The AP’s coronation of Clinton on its eve was certain to have an impact, although there was little unanimity about what that was.
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Write to Philip Elliott / New York City at firstname.lastname@example.org