By James Oliphant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – With the Democratic presidential nomination effectively wrapped up, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is hoping to bring the party together for the general election battle and persuade rival Bernie Sanders to bow out of the race.
Clinton secured enough delegates to win the nomination before Tuesday’s voting, U.S. media outlets reported on Monday night. But Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said the campaign was pushing supporters and volunteers to “stay at this” for the contests in New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and New Mexico, as well as the biggest prize, California, where she still risks a loss to Sanders.
“We’re on the verge of making history, and we’re going to celebrate that tonight,” Mook told CNN. “There’s a lot of people we want to make sure turn out today. We do not want to send a message that anybody’s vote doesn’t count.”
A former first lady, senator and U.S. secretary of state, Clinton would be the first woman to become the presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party. Clinton will highlight the historic nature of her nomination at an event in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. Her campaign has compiled a video tying her to women’s rights movements in American history.
She wants to move beyond the primary battle and turn her attention to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Nov. 8 election.
But despite growing pressure from party luminaries for him to exit the race, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who describes himself as a democratic socialist, has vowed to stay in until next month’s party convention that formally picks the nominee.
If Sanders, who was trailing in opinion polls in California until recently, wins the primary in America’s most populous state, it would not be enough for him to catch Clinton in the overall delegate count but could fuel his continued presence in the race.
“We will look forward tonight to marking having reached the threshold of a majority of the pledged delegates,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN, referring to delegates won in primary contests. “And at that point, Bernie Sanders will be out of our race.”
Sanders has commanded huge crowds, galvanizing younger voters with promises to address economic inequality. But Clinton has edged him out, particularly among older voters, with a more pragmatic campaign focused on building on President Barack Obama’s policies.
Steven Acosta, a 47-year-old teacher living in Los Angeles, voted for Clinton on Tuesday, saying that was partly because he believed she stood a better chance of winning in November.
“I like what Bernie Sanders says and I agree with almost everything that he says,” Acosta said. “The problem is that I think Republicans would really unify … even more against him.”
‘RUSH TO JUDGMENT’
Sanders was determined to stay in the race, even after the Associated Press and NBC reported on Monday night that Clinton had clinched the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. A Sanders campaign spokesman castigated what he said was the media’s “rush to judgment.”
Under Democratic National Committee rules, most delegates to the July 25-28 convention are awarded by popular votes in state-by-state elections, and Clinton has a clear lead in those “pledged” delegates.
But the delegate count also includes superdelegates – party leaders and elected senators, members of Congress and governors – who in theory can change their minds at any time. Clinton’s superdelegate support outnumbers Sanders’ by more than 10 to 1.
In practice, superdelegates who have announced their intentions are unlikely to change their minds. Sanders would have to get more than 60 percent of the superdelegates backing Clinton to switch their votes. So far, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, acknowledged they had not converted a single delegate.
Weaver refused when pressed during an interview on CNN to answer questions about how their argument requires asking delegates to defy the will of the voters.
“I’m arguing that the process in 2016 should play out according to the rules that have been established for this contest,” Weaver said.
Obama is eager to start campaigning, but the White House said he wanted to give voters an opportunity to cast ballots before weighing in on the Democratic race. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was aware of media calculations showing Clinton had clinched the nomination.
“However at this point there is at least one superdelegate – the one who works in the Oval Office – who’s not prepared to make a public declaration about his endorsement at this point,” Earnest said, referring to Obama’s superdelegate vote as president.
Clinton secured the endorsement on Tuesday of Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, who withheld her support until voting day.
CHALLENGE TO WIN SUPPORTERS
Dr. David Hunt, 67, a neurosurgeon from Hoboken, New Jersey, said he was aware the media had declared that Clinton had clinched the nomination, but still voted for Sanders.
“If he wins California and New Jersey, which I suspect he won’t, then he should continue campaigning, but on issues only, and not on personality,” he said. “But if he loses California and New Jersey, he should absolutely concede and formally, actively work for Hillary. If he splits the two states, well then it is an interesting call.”
Clinton will face a challenge to win over Sanders supporters.
They have become increasingly resistant in recent months, with fewer than half saying they would vote for her if she becomes the party’s nominee, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in May.
Last month, 41 percent of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Clinton if she ran against Trump in the general election. That was down from 50 percent in April, and 52 percent in March.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll included 2,919 Sanders supporters during the month of May and had a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points.
(Writing by Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Jonathan Allen and Chris Kahn in New York; Joseph Ax and Frank McGurty in New Jersey; Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in California; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)