Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination win – buoyed by a projected victory early Wednesday in delegate-rich California – puts the question to her defiant primary rival: Where does Bernie go from here?
While Bernie Sanders assured cheering supporters at a Los Angeles rally overnight that he plans to keep fighting, Fox News confirmed that the presidential candidate plans to lay off "over half" his staff in the next week.
And the math – which even he acknowledged – does not look good.
Clinton pocketed a victory in California, the biggest prize of the night and a state Sanders had fought hard to win. All told, Clinton is projected to win an outright majority of pledged delegates, while reaching the 2,383 necessary to clinch the nomination with help from free-agent “superdelegates” – party officials who can support any candidate they want.
Sanders all along has challenged the legitimacy of those insiders, but at this stage he would need to convince the lion’s share of Clinton superdelegates to abandon her to deny her the nomination on the convention floor, a virtually unprecedented feat.
While his supporters egged him on and could be heard booing at the mere mention of Clinton during his early morning rally, his position in the race at this stage would appear to leave them in limbo – backing a candidate whose path to the nomination has all but vanished.
Still, Sanders pledged to campaign through the finale primary Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and go on to the Democratic convention. He vowed to “take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”
In a potential move toward reconciliation, the White House revealed that President Obama called both Clinton and Sanders Tuesday night – and plans to meet with Sanders at the White House on Thursday, to discuss "how to build on the extraordinary work he has done to engage millions of Democratic voters."
Clinton earlier claimed victory over Sanders – after attaining the delegates needed to claim the nomination outright with a New Jersey primary win – during a lofty speech to supporters in Brooklyn.
“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone,” Clinton declared, upon becoming the first woman in American history to top the ticket of a major political party.
Marking the historic moment, Clinton said: “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us.”
She also congratulated Sanders, calling his campaign and the debate he brought about income inequality good for the party – while also saying this is a moment to “come together.”
Sanders' vow to stay in the race was based on his belief that his campaign could sway enough of Clinton's superdelegates to force a contested convention. They do not technically vote for a nominee until the Democratic National Convention next month. Pledged delegates, however, are bound to support the candidate who won the primary or caucus.
Fox News projects that Clinton will still have won a majority of all pledged delegates at the Democratic convention -- making it more difficult for Sanders to argue she’s winning only because of support from superdelegates.
Sanders did notch projected wins Tuesday in North Dakota’s Democratic caucuses and the Montana primary. A total of six states were voting Tuesday; Clinton won the rest.
On the GOP side, Donald Trump -- the only major Republican left in the race – was projected to win the primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota and New Mexico. Trump also surpassed a new milestone in the primary contest Tuesday night, winning enough bound delegates alone to clinch the GOP nomination.
Marking his victories during remarks at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Trump said: “Tonight, we close one chapter in history and we begin another.”
Previewing the general election battle, he slammed the Clintons, alleging they “turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves.” He also appealed to Sanders supporters, saying, “We welcome you with open arms.”
Clinton, in her victory speech, also took shots at Trump, claiming he would “take America backwards.”
“The stakes in this election are high, and the choice is clear. Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president,” she said.
The Democratic Party pressure on Sanders, meanwhile, is sure to mount in a matter of days, if not hours. Obama reportedly is planning to get behind Clinton and start campaigning for her, and senior Democrats have been voicing mounting frustration with Sanders’ campaign.
At the same time, the senator has touted general election polls suggesting he may be better positioned to go up against Trump in the fall.