Hillary Clinton declared herself the nominee of the Democratic party Tuesday, apparently on the cusp of winning enough pledged delegates to become the first woman to capture the nomination of a major political party in the United States’ 240-year history.
Clinton held her victory party in a cavernous hall in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 24 hours after it was announced that she had clinched the nomination based on a tally of delegates maintained by media trackers.
“It may be hard to see tonight but we are all standing under a glass ceiling right now,” she sad. “But don’t worry. We’re not smashing this one. Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone. The first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee.”
Clinton congratulated her rival Bernie Sanders and acknowledged he had “excited millions of voters, especially young people”. She said had won “a majority of contests and, after tonight, a majority of pledged delegates”.
Clinton took the stage eight years to the day when she conceded to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, memorably thanking her supporters at the time for leaving the nation’s highest glass ceiling “with about 18 million cracks in it”. On Tuesday, Clinton acknowledged its shattering as a sign of historic progress for the country.
She waited until a victory was declared in New Jersey before appearing on stage in New York. Ballots had not yet been counted in five other states voting on Tuesday, including California, where the result still hangs in the balance. She was later declared the victor in the New Mexico primary, while Sanders had triumphed in North Dakota.
Bernie Sanders win North Dakota
Shortly before Clinton appeared on stage around 10.20pm local time, her supporters received an email saying “tonight, we made history”, and her campaign chairman, John Podesta, appeared on CNN to say that the candidate had effectively sealed the nomination
“Tonight we go over the top against any measure, with pledged delegates, with superdelegates, with the popular vote,” he said. “She will be the nominee of the Democratic party.”
As Clinton celebrated in the state that has served as her adopted home, her opponent Bernie Sanders signaled he had no intention of going quietly into the night. The leftwing senator from Vermont continued to voice his frustration with the nominating process and vowed to carry forth with his unlikely quest to persuade so-called superdelegates who have endorsed Clinton to reverse course and switch their allegiances to him.
“The decision is I’m going to do everything I can to fight for the working class of this country, the low-income people against income and wealth inequality, do everything we can about climate change,” Sanders said in an interview with NBC Nightly News when asked if he planned to suspend his campaign.
When pressed on whether he was ignoring the will of the American people, who prior to Tuesday’s contests delivered 3m more votes to Clinton, Sanders stood his ground: “Defying history is what this campaign has been about.”
But Sanders’ persistence will ultimately do little to cloud Clinton’s triumph, particularly the prospect that 2016 may be the year in which America finally ushers into its political lexicon the words Madame President.
The news that a woman had finally reached such a vaunted place in the US halls of power brought emotional responses from voters who had hitched their hopes to the former first lady, US senator, and secretary of state to reach this day.
“To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, this is one big step for women, and a bigger step for America,” said Barbara Lee, founder and president of the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation which researches women’s races for executive office.
“A woman at the head of the table changes the conversation,” Lee continued. “A woman at the top of the ticket changes our perception of leadership – and the narrative about what girls can aspire to be.”
The momentous nature of her candidacy has been compounded by her Republican adversary, Donald Trump, a deeply controversial figure even in his own party who has a history of remarks about women equated to mysogyny.
Clinton took aim at Trump in her speech, mentioning his criticism of a Mexican judge over his heritage, mocking of a disabled reporter, and an occasion when she said he called women “pigs”.
She called him “temperamentally unfit” to be president. “He’s not just trying to build a wall between America and Mexico, he’s trying to wall off Americans from each other,” she said. “When he says let’s ‘make American great again’, that is code for let’s take America backwards.”
Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily’s List, which has worked since 1985 to get Democratic women who support abortion rights elected, said “it looks like we’re going into the locker room for halftime and we’re ahead and I’m very excited.”
Democrats are eager to seize upon a series of gendered comments Trump has made with respect to Clinton, such as his recent assertion that her achievements were the result of “playing the woman card”.
“To all of the Bernie Sanders supporters who have been left out in the cold in a rigged system with superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms,” Trump said, echoing the language used by Sanders to characterize the Democratic primary.
Both Clinton and Trump will enter the general election contest with record high unfavorable ratings. For Clinton, the drop in numbers have been associated with her use of a private email server as secretary of state – a controversy that will be a centerpiece of the Republican strategy to derail her campaign going into November.
Democrats nonetheless remain confident in their ability to portray Trump as fundamentally unserious and unfit for the office, given his penchant for creating a firestorm on a seemingly daily basis.
Even as Clinton emerged as the de facto Democratic nominee, Republicans were grappling with the fallout from Trump’s latest attack on a judge over his Hispanic ethnicity.
Clinton can claim to be the nominee after an unexpectedly challenging year-long primary race against Sanders, who has electrified the liberal wing of the Democratic party and revealed Clinton’s enduring weakness among younger voters.
In total, Clinton visited 42 states and territories since launching her second presidential bid in April 2015. Confessing that she was not a “natural politician”, Clinton found her rhythm by forging connections with voters in low-key settings across the country: over coffee at a local diner in Monticello, Iowa, at an organic farm in Meredith, New Hampshire, during a late night visit with the maids at a Las Vegas hotel, and by sipping St Patrick’s day beers with the patrons of a bar in Youngstown, Ohio.
The US has had a Catholic president, a divorced president, a black president, all before tapping a woman to be a major party’s presidential candidate.
More than a dozen women have previously launched a bid for the White House , starting with Victoria Woodhull in 1872, nearly half a century before women even had the right to vote. Clinton now appears to get closer than anyone to date – becoming the first woman to lead a major political party’s bid for the presidency.