AP – Already the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton pressed for victory in California and five other states Tuesday, while Bernie Sanders hoped a strong showing would raise doubts about her historic achievement and spur super-delegates to rally around him instead.
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The Democratic race was coming to an end amid new turmoil in the Republican Party. GOP leaders recoiled at Donald Trump's comments about a Hispanic judge, with one senator even pulling his endorsement of the presumptive GOP nominee. Trump insisted his words had been "misconstrued" as an attack on people of Mexican heritage.
Clinton secured the 2,383 delegates she needed for the nomination on the eve of Tuesday's voting, according to an Associated Press tally. Her total is comprised of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as super-delegates – the party officials and officeholders who can back a candidate of their choosing.
"We are at the brink of a historic, historic unprecedented moment," Clinton said during a rally in California on Monday.
Clinton wanted to wait until most of the voting was complete Tuesday night before fully reveling in becoming the first woman nominated by a major U.S. political party. She was to address supporters at a victory party in Brooklyn eight years to the day after she ended her first White House campaign.
Still, she was wasting no time moving toward the general election. Her campaign announced that she would make stops next week in Ohio and Pennsylvania, states that will be pivotal in November.
Sanders spent Tuesday making a final round of campaign stops in California, the biggest prize of the day. While a win in California would still leave him well short of overtaking Clinton in the delegate total, the Vermont senator hoped a victory would help in his so-far-unsuccessful bid to get Clinton super-delegates to switch their support.
"I think we've got a shot," Sanders said of his prospects in California after breakfast at a San Francisco cafe.
Super-delegates who were counted in Clinton's total told the AP they were unequivocally supporting her.
Trump stunned a host of experienced Republican candidates in the GOP primaries this year. But since vanquishing his last opponents about a month ago, he has continued to make controversial statements, frustrating party leaders who hoped he might moderate in the general election.
The latest cause for GOP concern was Trump's insistence that a judge handling a legal case involving the businessman was being unfair in his rulings. Trump has said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel can't be impartial because the jurist's parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who is locked in a close re-election fight, became the first lawmaker to pull his endorsement of Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the businessman's assertion was the "textbook definition of a racist comment" but he could continue to support Trump.
After days of defending his comments, Trump released a statement saying he does "not feel one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial." But he still questioned whether he was receiving fair treatment in the case involving the now-defunct Trump University.
"I do not intend to comment on this matter any further," Trump said.
His shaky support among Republicans stands in stark contrast to the Democratic leadership now mobilizing behind Clinton.
The former secretary of state, first lady and New York senator secured support Tuesday from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents California and said she would vote for Clinton in her home state. Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman on Capitol Hill, has praised both Clinton and Sanders.
Clinton will also soon have help on the campaign trail from President Barack Obama. Her 2008 foe is to endorse her as early as this week, a move meant to signal to Sanders and his supporters that it's time to unify behind her.
Obama and Sanders spoke by phone Sunday. While the content of the call is unknown, Sanders did appear to slightly soften his rhetoric the next day, saying he would return to Vermont after the California contest and "assess where we are."
Sanders' achievements have been remarkable for a candidate who was unknown to most Americans before the 2016 campaign. He has drawn massive crowds to rallies around the country and built a fundraising juggernaut based largely on small donations online. The Vermont senator has been particularly popular with young voters, an important piece of the Democratic coalition.
Still, Clinton's victory has been broadly decisive. She leads Sanders by more than 3 million cast votes, by 291 pledged delegates and by 523 super-delegates. She won 29 caucuses and primaries in states and U.S. territories to his 21 victories.
Heading into Tuesday's voting, Clinton had 1,812 pledged delegates and the support of 571 of the 714 super-delegates, according to the AP count. The AP surveyed the super-delegates repeatedly in the past seven months.
"I think the math is unforgiving," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a Clinton supporter. She said she's hopeful Sanders will "help us focus on making sure Donald Trump never sets foot in the Oval Office."
New Jersey and California are the biggest prizes up for grabs Tuesday, with Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota also holding contests. The final Democratic primary will be held next week in the District of Columbia.