CALIFORNIA — Hillary Clinton is on the cusp of history, but Bernie Sanders is refusing to admit defeat as the rivals blitz California on a intense final day of campaigning in the 2016 Democratic primary.
The former secretary of state, who is expected to be declared the first female presidential nominee, and the defiant Vermont senator, are holding last rallies ahead of the final Super Tuesday of a campaign that was more contentious and competitive than anyone expected.
Clinton’s victory in Sunday’s Puerto Rico primary left her just 26 delegates shy of being declared the presumptive Democratic nominee, a milestone she will easily clear in the contests playing out in six states Tuesday.
In fact, Clinton is likely to pass the magic number of 2,383 delegates soon after the polls close in New Jersey. That means that California’s primary may serve as a litmus test of the party’s interest in Sanders’ liberal policies — even if it won’t sway the outcome of the nomination.
Sanders started Monday’s final day of campaigning in the Golden State trying to seize the agenda with a news conference. After a breakneck weekend of campaigning, he has one, big final event planned: a get out the vote concert in San Francisco featuring Dave Matthews, Fantastic Negrito, Fishbone and actor Danny Glover.
He told reporters that strong results on Tuesday would position him to make the case to Democratic Superdelegates ahead of the party convention in Philadelphia next month that he is better positioned than Clinton to beat Donald Trump in November’s election.
He refused to speculate about whether he would endorse Clinton if the results didn’t go his way.
“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 before we make statements based on speculation,” Sanders said.
Clinton will counter with three of her own get out the vote events in the Los Angeles area, then host her own musical event starring Christina Aguilera, Andra Day, John Legend, Ricky Martin, and Stevie Wonder.
In her own question-and-answer session with reporters, Clinton pointed out that Tuesday would mark exactly eight years since she had folded her 2008 primary campaign and endorsed Barack Obama, in a strong hint that Sanders should do the same.
“It is not over until it is over and tomorrow is a really important day,” Clinton told CNN’s Dan Merica in Compton California, saying she wanted for now not to focus on the historic nature of her candidacy because she wanted to ensure everyone came out to vote.
Asked how she could change Sanders’ mind about fighting on to the convention, Clinton said she would take stock after Tuesday but vowed to work hard to unify the party to defeat Trump.
“I certainly am going be reaching out to Senator Sanders and hope he will join me in that because we have got to be unified going into the convention and coming out of the convention to take on Donald Trump.”
Her campaign is not waiting for Tuesday’s results to try to dictate the end game of the contest, building pressure on Sanders to reconsider his pledge to try to deprive Clinton of the nomination at the Democratic National Convention.
Clinton said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday that she would begin a concerted push to unite Democrats beginning on Wednesday. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported Monday that the effort could include an early — and highly significant — endorsement from Obama.
Obama, who remains highly popular among Democrats and will play a key role in uniting the party, has held off on an endorsement so far as Clinton and Sanders have battled it out. But Zeleny, citing two well placed Democrats, said the Clinton campaign is working with the White House to coordinate the unity push, and comments by the President could make the pressure on the Vermont senator to quit insurmountable.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that he didn’t have any announcements to make as yet about a Presidential endorsement. Pressed by CNN’s Michelle Kosinski whether Obama would indeed endorse someone on Wednesday, he answered: “I don’t know maybe he will.”
Several recent polls in California have shown a close race between Clinton and Sanders within the margin of error. Sanders is banking on the enthusiasm of young, more liberal voters while Clinton is relying heavily on minority communities and may be hoping that the largely positive reviews among Democrats of her speech last week lacerating Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency will give her a late boost among undecided voters.
Sanders is hoping that a victory in California would bolster his claims that over the long Democratic primary, the party has turned against Clinton and lacking her political baggage, he’d be a much stronger candidate to battle Trump in November.
His strategy requires convincing Democratic superdelegates — party officials and others who are free to vote however they wish at the convention — to vote for him instead in Philadelphia.
Sanders vowed as recently as Saturday to contest the Democratic convention. Asked by reporters Sunday if that was still his position, he simply responded: “Absolutely.”
And he intensified his attacks on Clinton on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying he is bothered by the potential conflict-of-interest of the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of gifts from foreign governments during her tenure as secretary of state and said Clinton’s backing of interventions in Iraq and Libya proved she was too hawkish.
But the Sanders approach is a long shot not just because most superdelegates prefer Clinton. It would require Sanders to convince his party that superdelegates should cancel out the verdict of Democratic primary voters themselves, since Clinton has several million more voters in the primary than her rival and has a lead of 300 pledged delegates allocated after state primaries and caucuses throughout the entire Democratic campaign.
“The fact that she will have won by millions of votes, the popular vote, will have a majority of the pledged delegates, will mean that the superdelegates that are committed to her will remain committed to her,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, a Clinton supporter told CNN on Monday.