Hillary Clinton: ‘We’ve reached a milestone’

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NEW YORK -- Hillary Clinton embraced her place in history Tuesday as the first woman to become the presidential nominee of a major political party.

"Thanks to you, we've reached a milestone," Clinton said during a speech in Brooklyn celebrating her status as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. "Tonight's victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible."

Clinton's long-awaited moment of celebration came as six states held contests that close out a tumultuous presidential primary season. Her long-awaited moment of celebration came as she notched wins in the night's primaries in California, New Jersey, South Dakota and New Mexico Democratic primaries.

Reaching out to Bernie Sanders supporters, Clinton praised the Vermont senator for his long public service and "extraordinary" campaign. She played down any notion of divisions and their vigorous primary campaign was "very good for the Democratic Party and for America."

Clinton vs. Trump

Clinton was less charitable toward Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee she'll face in a general election campaign that's already turning into one of the nastiest battle's in modern history. She renewed her attack line that the real estate billionaire was "temperamentally unfit" to be president.

"He is not just trying to build a wall between America and Mexico. He is trying to wall of Americans from each other. When he says let's make America great again, that is code for let's take American backwards."

She hit Trump hard for his recent attacks on a judge with Mexican ancestry along with mocking a disabled reporter and "calling women pigs."

"He wants to win by stoking fear and rubbing salt in wounds and reminding us daily just how great he is."

While the spotlight is on the former secretary of state, Sanders and Trump also face crucial tests.

Sanders, who won the North Dakota caucuses, faces an existential campaign question. He is grappling with whether to honor his vow to fight on to the Democratic National Convention next month or accept the electoral mathematics that give him no viable path to victory and join Clinton to unite a party divided by a much more competitive primary race than expected.

Sanders spoke before a roaring crowd of his own in California to declare "the struggle continues." He pledged to stay in the race through next week's primary in the District of Columbia, and to fight on for social, economic, racial and environmental justice at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

But he did not specifically commit to pursuing his fight for the nomination at the convention, leaving his ultimate intentions unclear.

Obama's call

President Barack Obama, who waited until voting ended in the last six primary states to weigh in on the race, called both candidates to congratulate them for "running inspiring campaigns that have energized Democrats," according to a White House statement.

But the president, who will meet with Sanders on Thursday at the Vermont senator's request, clearly sided with Clinton by lauding her for "securing the delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination for president."

"Her historic campaign inspired millions and is an extension of her lifelong fight for middle-class families and children," the statement said.

Reaching the highest peak yet in a tumultuous and trailblazing political career, Clinton claimed victory eight years after folding her 2008 Democratic primary campaign against Obama.

Trump: 'We are only getting started'

For Trump, the question Tuesday was how he would extricate himself from the political hole opened up by his controversial comments about a judge of Mexican descent who is overseeing a lawsuit aimed at Trump University.

His accusation that the judge is biased because of his ethnicity has horrified senior GOP leaders who recently reluctantly endorsed him. He tried to neutralize the furor with a statement Tuesday saying his comments had been "misconstrued."

Amid the furor, Trump, who won the Republican contests Tuesday, delivered a more conventional speech that seemed a departure from the free wheeling approach he often takes.

Using a teleprompter -- notable for someone who has blasted Clinton for being scripted -- Trump attacked Clinton and called for GOP unity. For one night at least, it seemed that the unpredictable billionaire had heeded calls by the GOP establishment -- which he built a campaign on vilifying -- to rein himself in for the good of the party.

"We are only getting started and it is going to be beautiful," he said.

He didn't mention the judge during his speech and instead sought to convey that he understood his new role as the leader of the GOP.

"I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never, ever let you down," he said.

A top campaign adviser said Trump's speech was "very important to recovering from these five bad days."

Consequential night

The public appearances add up to one of the most consequential set piece moments so far in the presidential campaign, with just as much symbolic importance as the party conventions next month and the three presidential debates in the fall. The speeches will set the trajectory of the general election race and ultimately help decide who wins in November.

Voters went to the polls in New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and California, which offers the most Democratic delegates of any state.

Clinton reached the magic number of 2,383 delegates needed for the nomination on Monday night after adding the support of several superdelegates.

The former first lady, who has spent a quarter of a century in the national political glare, and weathered a string of controversies, embraced her status as a female icon as never before on Tuesday night, after spending years playing down the historic potential of her career.

Eight years later

The Brooklyn event represents the closing of a personal and political circle as it comes exactly eight years to the day after Clinton folded her 2008 primary campaign against Barack Obama after failing to crack what she described as the "highest, hardest glass ceiling" in American politics.

Sanders' appearance after polls close in California will be closely watched for signs of his intentions. The Vermont senator was once a fringe political figure, but has used a campaign that electrified the Democratic Party's liberal grassroots to emerge as a major figure.

Sanders has his political legacy and future career to consider, as well as what may turn out to be the last rites of his presidential bid. If he decides that it is the end of the road, Sanders must also encourage his fervent supporters to embrace Clinton -- an experience many may find unpalatable after the euphoria of his unlikely insurgent campaign.

 

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