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[WASHINGTON] Eight years after Hillary Clinton boasted she put 18 million cracks in the toughest glass ceiling of all for women, she finally broke it.
The 2016 general election unofficially began on Monday, when Mrs Clinton secured enough delegates to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, according to the Associated Press. Besting Democratic rival Bernie Sanders makes the former secretary of state, senator and first lady the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major US political party.
"It's just time for a woman president. Frankly, it's past time. I have nieces. I have a mother. I want to see this happen now," said John Smart, 53, a Los Angeles resident who works for in the film business.
Mrs Clinton is "absolutely the most experience and qualified candidate we have, possibly by far in the last 50 years," he said.
Mrs Clinton's hard-fought victory comes eight years to the day after she dropped out of the 2008 primary to endorse Barack Mr Obama, touting the "18 million cracks"-one for every voter-she put in the "highest, hardest glass ceiling." It comes on the day of the delegate-rich primary in California, the biggest prize on the calendar, and five other states Tuesday, and gives Mrs Clinton the right to face off against Donald Trump, who clinched the Republican nomination last month. The two are set to be formally nominated at their parties' conventions in July.
"It's been an incredible journey," Mrs Clinton told reporters Monday at a campaign stop in Compton, California. "Having a woman president will make a great statement, historic statement about what kind of country we are and what we stand for. It's really emotional."
Mrs Clinton has crisscrossed the country campaigning on a centre-left platform seeking to marry progressive ideals with political pragmatism, emphasizing kitchen-table issues like raising the minimum wage, tackling pay inequity for women, lowering health care and child care costs, reducing student debt, mitigating gun violence, and giving undocumented immigrants a chance to get right with the law.
"The economy does better when he have a Democrat in the White House. I know that gets my Republican friends a little agitated. But the truth is the truth," Mrs Clinton said at a recent stop near Los Angeles, praising the jobs created under her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and under President Barack Obama. Last week, she stepped up her attacks on Mr Trump, portraying him in a nationally televised speech as dangerously unfit to be commander-in-chief.
Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders have spent recent weeks barnstorming the Golden State. The remaining primaries won't change the outcome of the race, but will determine how much leverage Mr Sanders has to influence the Democratic Party's agenda at the convention in Philadelphia.
The pledged delegates and superdelegates that put Mrs Clinton over the 2,383 marker will formally cast their votes in July.
Mrs Clinton towered over the field last summer, leading her rivals by as many as 60 points in one major national survey. Mr Sanders-who until last summer was a little-known democratic socialist from Vermont and self-identified independent in the US Senate-gradually closed the gap and gave Mrs Clinton an unexpectedly strong challenge by inspiring millions of progressives and young voters with his campaign against income inequality, Wall Street malfeasance, rising college costs, and money's corrosion of the democratic process.
Three other candidates never got off the ground. Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee and ex-Virginia senator Jim Webb ended their quixotic bids in October. Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley dropped out after failing to reach 1 per cent in Iowa.
After barely eking out a win in Iowa, Mrs Clinton was crushed in New Hampshire and won narrowly in Nevada. Then things began to look up. She built up a large delegate lead on March 1 by walloping Mr Sanders in South Carolina the Southern states on Super Tuesday, thanks to overwhelming support from black Democrats.
Her ability to win as many as four in five of those voters-who made up one-fifth of the Democratic electorate in 2012-proved to be her secret weapon after she narrowly lost the 2008 race to Barack Obama.
Mr Sanders often won young voters by similarly large margins and outshone Mrs Clinton in many states among whites and men. While he continued to win contests, doing particularly well at low-turnout caucuses in heavily white states, he was never able to challenge her lead in pledged delegates, which are awarded proportionally.
Even as his prospects of victory vanished with a resounding defeat on April 19 in New York, where Mr Sanders grew up and campaigned his heart out, he remained defiant, refusing to drop out and vowing to fight until the convention.
But with victory out of reach, his aim now is to negotiate the terms of his surrender. He has made clear he wants to prevent Mrs Clinton from moving to the centre in the general election, and to influence the Democratic Party platform and rules for future nominating contests, setting up a showdown in Philadelphia.
Mr Sanders' posturing poses a challenge for Mrs Clinton to unify the party.
He has fed a perception among his supporters-many are young and self-identified independents who aren't reliable Democratic voters-that the system was rigged against him by railing against superdelegates and so-called closed primaries (in which registered independents cannot vote).
But Mr Sanders' case for the nomination was revealed as weak when his campaign resorted to arguing that superdelegates-elected officials and party leaders who are free to support whichever candidate they want-ought to support him even if he loses the popular vote.
"Pledged delegates are pledged to the candidates, superdelegates may change their mind," Mr Sanders said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," staying open to the idea of taking his fight to the convention.
On the same program, Mrs Clinton make a plea to Mr Sanders supporters.
"I ran to become president because I have deep values and beliefs about what should be done in our country. I am much closer in the goals that I think we should be pursuing with Barack Obama than I am with the Republicans. The same is true with Senator Sanders and myself," Mrs Clinton said Sunday on the same program."
"We both want to raise the minimum wage. We both want to get to universal health care coverage. We both want to make sure Wall Street never wrecks Main Street again. We share so many of the same goals."
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