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Clinton Has Enough Delegates To Claim Democratic Nomination

Hillary Clinton speaks to voters during a rally in El Centro, Calif., Thursday. She is on the precipice of becoming the Democratic nominee for president.
The Washington Post/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton speaks to voters during a rally in El Centro, Calif., Thursday. She is on the precipice of becoming the Democratic nominee for president.

Hillary Clinton has secured enough delegates to be the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, according to an updated count by The Associated Press. She is the first woman ever to head a major-party ticket in this country.

New superdelegate commitments, party leaders and elected officials, have put her over the threshold of 2,383 necessary to be the nominee. She was widely expected to cross the threshold Tuesday when polls closed at 8 p.m. ET in New Jersey, as she was just 23 delegates short. But the AP canvassed more undeclared superdelegates and enough came forward to publicly declare their support for Clinton on Monday night ahead of voting Tuesday.

Tuesday will see one of the biggest voting days of the Democratic primary with 694 delegates at stake, including 475 in California. Clinton and Sanders have been campaigning hard in California in what polls have shown to be a neck-and-neck race.

The Clinton campaign is stressing this is an "important milestone," but it doesn't want voters to be discouraged from going to the polls Tuesday, especially in California.

"This is an important milestone, but there are six states that are voting Tuesday, with millions of people heading to the polls, and Hillary Clinton is working to earn every vote," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a written statement. "We look forward to Tuesday night, when Hillary Clinton will clinch not only a win in the popular vote, but also the majority of pledged delegates."

The Sanders campaign, for its part, called the declaration "unfortunate" and a "rush to judgment" and is again declaring to take his fight all the way to the Democratic National Convention this summer:

"It is unfortunate that the media, in a rush to judgement, are ignoring the Democratic National Committee's clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer. Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination. She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then. They include more than 400 superdelegates who endorsed Secretary Clinton 10 months before the first caucuses and primaries and long before any other candidate was in the race.

"Our job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump."

(Just as a point of fact, and we'll get into superdelegates more further down, but while Clinton had a sizable lead with superdelegates in this campaign, "more than 400" did not come out for her publicly 10 months before the election. The first major sweep done by the AP was in November 2015 — three months before the first voting began, and Clinton had a 359-to-8 lead.)

Most caveats are no longer necessary — with one hitch: Clinton is not officially the nominee. That won't happen until delegates actually vote at the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. (Donald Trump, for that matter, won't officially be the Republican nominee, either, until voting at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.)

Those Pesky Superdelegates

It won't be without controversy, however. Sanders supporters argue it is "misleading," "unfair," and even a "lie" that news networks would declare Clinton the winner because "superdelegates" don't officially vote until the convention.

Well, it's true that superdelegates don't vote until the convention. But neither do ANY of the delegates. If that were the standard, Trump wouldn't be the "presumptive nominee" for the Republicans, either, because "unbound" delegates put him over the top. (Those are delegates who don't have to vote at the convention based on the voting in their state primary and caucus contests.)

The reason NPR includes superdelegates in our count, which comes to us via the AP, either for Clinton or Sanders is because these officials have publicly pledged their support to one or the other candidate.

The 2016 Democratic contest is, in fact, unique in the sense that superdelegates, which were introduced in 1984, have always been included in counts. The focus has never so strongly before been on PLEDGED delegates. By that count, by the way, Clinton has a 291-delegate lead(1,812 to 1,521).

The reason for the focus on pledged delegates is because early on in this contest, the Sanders campaign, facing such a deficit with superdelegates — he's never been a Democrat before this year — said it would be unfair for superdelegates to put Clinton over the top, even if Sanders beat her with the "will of the people."

Winning With Pledged Delegates

Instead, what is all but certain to play out after Tuesday is Clinton will have defeated Sanders soundly with primary voters over the course of this campaign, by far more delegates than Obama did in 2008. Obama finished just 69 delegates ahead of Clinton in 2008, and Clinton won the popular vote against Obama.

What's more, Clinton's current pledged-delegate lead (291) is bigger than what Obama had over her OVERALL (238.5). Overall, Clinton currently leads Sanders, including superdelegates, by 814.

It's true that neither candidate will cross the line with pledged delegates alone. If they split the 694 delegates at stake Tuesday, Clinton will be a couple hundred short.

But that's not the standard.

And it certainly doesn't mean it will be a "contested" convention, given that Clinton leads Sanders currently by 523 superdelegates (571 to 48).

Put in perspective, if the two candidates split the delegates Tuesday, Sanders would need 488 of the 714 superdelegates (68 percent) to flip or come out for him.

Most Electable?

Sanders will try to make the case that he is the most electable candidate to take on Donald Trump.

While polls show that to be the case right now, superdelegates are sophisticated consumers of political information. They're pols themselves, or deeply involved in politics.

They know that Sanders' numbers are probably inflated to some extent, because he's not the nominee. If he were seen as the likely nominee, the scrutiny would go way up.

So without Sanders winning the pledged majority — or, frankly, Clinton being indicted or mortally wounded — there is very little rationale for them to switch.

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.