Eight years after conceding she was unable to “shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling,” Hillary Clinton is embracing her place in history as she finally crashes through as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Throughout her surprisingly rocky primary campaign, Clinton has been cautious about emphasizing her trailblazer status. But as she campaigned in California in recent days, the former secretary of state signaled she was ready to acknowledge her distinction as the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party.
The Associated Press determined Monday night that Clinton had reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic nominee.
That tally showed that, lifted by a big win in Puerto Rico and a burst of late support from Democratic superdelegates, she had commitments from the number of delegates needed to become the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president.
Under this accounting of delegates, in the primary elections and caucuses, Clinton has won 1,812 pledged delegates. Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders has won 1,521. That gives her a lead of 291.
That is far more than the 131-delegate lead that then-Sen. Barack Obama held over Clinton when he clinched the Democratic nomination on June 4, 2008.
Among superdelegates, Clinton has the support of 571. Sanders has the backing of 48. That gives Clinton a lead of 523 superdelegates.
Overall, Clinton has 2,383 delegates, Sanders 1,569.
In Tuesday’s contests in six states, 694 delegates are up for grabs. The Washington, D.C., primary is a week later, with 26 delegates at stake.
During a rally in Los Angeles on Monday night, Clinton said she was on the brink of a “historic, unprecedented moment,” while acknowledging there was still work to be done in the states voting Tuesday.
It’s a remarkable moment for a candidate who’s spent much of her life at the center of a heated national conversation about the role of women. From stridently defending her own career, famously saying in 1992 that she never “stayed home and baked cookies,” to a 2008 presidential bid that shied away from mentioning her gender, Clinton has addressed the issue of her historic role from nearly every angle.
Now she’s trying something new: owning it.
“Starting next Tuesday, we’re on our way to breaking the highest and hardest glass ceiling,” Clinton said last week in Culver City, echoing the speech she made in 2008 when she conceded the Democratic primary to Obama.
Her supporters are already there: At events in California, they chanted “deal me in” when she joked about “playing the woman card.”
“Having a woman president will make a great statement, a historic statement about what kind of country we are, about what we stand for,” Clinton told reporters at a community center in Compton on Monday. “It’s really emotional, and I am someone who has been very touched and really encouraged by this extraordinary conviction people have.”
Campaign aides say Clinton is mindful of the significance, especially when she thinks about her mother, Dorothy Rodham, who was born before women had the right to vote. Rodham, who died in 2011, was in attendance at Clinton’s concession speech in 2008, and Clinton has made her life story a focal point of the campaign.
That’s a reversal from her first presidential bid. In 2008, Clinton believed she needed to project an image of strength to persuade voters she could be the first woman to serve as commander in chief — a “kind of tough single parent” rather than a “first mama,” as Mark Penn, her chief strategist at the time, described it.
Aides and allies believe that her previous presidential run helped normalize the idea of a woman in the country’s highest position,
This year, Clinton wants to focus on how her groundbreaking achievement is symbolic of the kind of change she wants to effect as president, aides say. “Breaking down barriers” has been one of her campaign slogans, as she pledges to improve access to education, jobs and opportunity.
After a challenging primary against Sanders’ insurgent campaign, Clinton feels confident about the contrast this message offers with likely Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has made disparaging comments about women. In recent days, Clinton has drawn wild applause for a newly aggressive line of attack against Trump.
Her campaign thinks she can use Trump’s incendiary rhetoric against him, particularly to win over white, suburban women — a demographic Obama lost.
But that remains to be seen. Trump has shown himself willing to go after her with gender-related attacks, accusing her of “shouting” and of playing the “woman’s card” to get ahead. He has also sniped at her marriage to Bill Clinton as well as his personal indiscretions.
The unpredictability concerns some of Clinton’s strongest allies.
“There’s still a huge difference between the way in which female and males either running for or being in executive positions are treated,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Because we have not had a female executive as president of the United States, we have no idea how all of this is going to play out.”
When she started her campaign, Clinton frequently joked about being the “youngest woman president.” But in recent months she had largely stopped mentioning her place in history because her campaign found it was not effective with voters. That’s started to change.
All along, Clinton has heavily emphasized issues of importance to women, like paid family leave, equal pay and affordable child care. In California, she was joined by 17 female leaders and celebrities, including Sally Field, Mary Steenburgen and Debra Messing.
Field drew huge applause as she asked why Clinton gets accused of not being likable.
“What is this, a high school popularity contest? She’s not running to be anybody’s friend. She’s running to be the president of the United States,” Field said.
For all intents, the primary season comes to an end Tuesday. In addition to California, primaries will be held in New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota. Also, North Dakota holds its Democratic caucus.
In her visit Monday to the community center in the Compton section of Los Angeles, Clinton said should she become the nominee, she’ll be “reaching out” to Sanders and would do what she could to bring the party together. She would not say if Sanders should concede after Tuesday.
Campaigning in San Francisco on Monday, Sanders declined to speculate to reporters about what a poor showing in Tuesday’s primaries might mean to his campaign. “Let me just talk to you after the primary here in California where we hope to win. Let’s assess where we are after tomorrow,” he said.
In other campaign developments:
▪ Republicans roundly scolded their own presidential candidate Monday, demanding Trump apologize for — and just stop — talking about the ethnic background and alleged impartiality of the American judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University.
Leading the roll call were two former rivals for the Republican nomination. Ohio Gov. John Kasich tweeted that Trump’s offensive against the impartiality of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel “is flat-out wrong.”
Chimed in Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio: “It’s wrong and I hope he stops.”
▪ Obama is on the verge of formally endorsing Clinton and starting to aggressively make the case against Trump. White House officials say the announcement could come within days.
▪ It’ll be a little while longer before final vote totals are known from Sunday’s Democratic primary in Puerto Rico. The island’s Democratic Party chairman said the election commission will resume manually counting votes Tuesday. Clinton won the race over Sanders in that primary.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.