Capitol Alert

Hillary Clinton wins big over Bernie Sanders in California

Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by a wide margin in California’s presidential primary on Tuesday, hours after declaring victory in her party’s national nominating contest.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton was leading Sanders 56 percent to 43 percent, disheartening Sanders supporters.

At a New York victory party steeped in history of the women’s rights movement, Clinton, the first woman to top the ticket of a major U.S. party, urged Democrats to look beyond the primary to the general election “battle that awaits.”

Clinton’s speech came shortly before California polls closed and one day after The Associated Press, surveying pledged delegates and superdelegates, declared the former secretary of state had enough delegates to become the nominee. Speaking in Brooklyn, Clinton ripped into Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, calling him “temperamentally unfit” to be president.

“He’s not just trying to build a wall between America and Mexico,” she said. “He’s trying to wall off Americans from each other. When he says, ‘Let’s make America great again,’ that is code for, ‘Let’s take America backwards.’ 

Trump, who added to his delegate haul in California, said Tuesday that he will lay out a comprehensive case against Clinton in a “major speech,” likely Monday.

“The last thing we need is Hillary Clinton in the White House,” he said.

For Sanders, the one remaining, unlikely hope was to persuade a mass of superdelegates to shift their support away from Clinton ahead of the Democratic National Convention in July. The Vermont senator has faced increasing appeals from high-ranking Democrats to abandon that effort and end his insurgent campaign.

But Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said on MSNBC that Sanders will “intensify” his effort after Tuesday.

“Once we get past the part of this process where people are done voting in California and other states,” Weaver said, “then we’ll intensify the outreach to the superdelegates.

Sanders supporters awaiting their candidate in Santa Monica chanted “Bull----!” when CNN showed early California results, then “Turn it off!”

The vote-counting in California concluded a furious month of campaigning in a state that Clinton was once expected to carry easily. The diversity of the electorate appeared to favor Clinton, whose advantage among Latino and black voters helped to defeat Sanders in early voting states.

Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, carried California in her failed presidential bid in 2008, and she maintained an extensive political and donor network that she cultivated since her husband, Bill Clinton, first ran for president in 1992.

But Sanders mounted a surprisingly strong challenge. As the national contest appeared to slip further from Sanders’ grasp, he shifted his efforts west, focusing almost exclusively on California. Chasing a largely symbolic victory in the state, he sought to seize momentum for his more liberal message – if not his presidential aspirations – heading into the party’s nominating convention.

Sanders whirled across the state, hosting dozens of rallies in the final weeks of the campaign. In a TV ad, he urged Californians to send Washington politicians “a message they can’t ignore.”

By last week, three separate polls put the contest at a virtual tie. As in other states, Sanders rallied support from a crush of young Democrats and independent voters. His disadvantage among Latino voters in California, a significant voting group here, was only 4 percentage points, according to a Field Poll last week.

Clinton was forced to cut campaigning short in New Jersey last week and to add events in California. Seeking to avoid an embarrassing loss here, she courted ethnic voters in heavily Latino areas of the state and moderate Democrats in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley.

Yet for all of her campaigning in California, she kept her focus almost squarely on Trump.

“The stakes in this election are high, and the choice is clear,” Clinton said. “Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief.”

Before speaking, Clinton’s campaign put a new photograph of the candidate on Twitter, with the declaration, “History made.” Her speech came eight years after Clinton ended her primary campaign against then-Sen. Barack Obama.

Despite the intensity of the Democratic primary, California was once again relegated to a less-than-decisive role. The last time California’s June election proved decisive in a presidential primary was 1972, when the state went for George McGovern as the Democratic nominee.

Hopes for relevance were briefly raised on the Republican side this year. For much of April, it appeared that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich might mount a final stand against Trump in the state, with the prospect of forcing a contested convention. But after preparing to challenge Trump in a district-by-district skirmish here, the New York businessman walloped his rivals in Indiana in May. Cruz and Kasich dropped out, and Trump stood as the presumptive nominee.

Following the Tuesday election, California was poised to fall back out of view. Trump, campaigning in the state in recent weeks, has pledged to make a “big, big play for California” in November.

But for most candidates – Republican and Democrat – the relevance of California in the fall is the money to be raised in what is a major donor state.

As for the November election, California has become so heavily Democratic that no Republican presidential candidate has won here in more than 25 years.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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