Hillary Clinton thumped Bernie Sanders in the California primary Tuesday, a triumphant victory for the now-presumptive Democratic nominee for president in a state that the Vermont senator had hoped to win as recently as days ago.
Clinton’s win undercuts an argument from Sanders or his supporters that the liberal firebrand finished the Democratic primary with momentum, which the senator had hoped would persuade Democratic superdelegates to switch their allegiance from Clinton.
If anything, the former secretary of state’s commanding victory in California makes it look as if the Democratic Party had finally, if belatedly, accepted her as its new standard-bearer. That will give Clinton a new found confidence as she attempts to unify Democrats ahead of next month’s national convention in Philadelphia, and as she turns her attention to the general election and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.
Sanders, undaunted, promised during a late-night speech to continue his campaign to next week's primary in Washington, D.C., and into the national convention.
"We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington D.C., and then we take our fight ... to Philadelphia," he said.
In the state’s Senate race, the retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer is likely guaranteed to be replaced by a Democrat and a woman. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez were on track to earn the most votes in the primary, pitting the two candidates against each other in a race Harris will be heavily favored to win.
Harris had won 40 percent of the vote with more than 94 percent of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press. Sanchez had won only 18 percent of the vote, but that was 10 percentage points more than her nearest competitor.
The attorney general, who has been endorsed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, is a fundraising behemoth and a rising star in the Democratic Party nationally. Most analysts considered her the likely next senator from California after former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom passed on campaigns.
She’s also trying to make history: If elected, Harris would be only the second African-American woman to have a seat in the Senate. She would join Carol Moseley Braun, who served one term in the 1990s from Illinois.
Sanchez, who has raised about a third of Harris so far in the campaign, could conceivably court Republican voters and donors into her campaign – but she’ll have to convince many of them that she’s a viable a candidate first.
The inability of a Republican candidate to make the top-two runoff is yet another statewide failure for California Republicans, who failed to field a serious candidate. The party has not won a statewide race in California in more than a decade.
In House races, national Democrats began the night nervously watching two districts – in California’s 25th and 21st districts – in which they had hoped their preferred candidate would finish in one of the top two positions. By the end of the night, they had received mixed news.
In the 25th Congressional District, a Los Angeles-area seat represented by Republican Rep. Steve Knight, attorney Bryan Caforio finished in second place, according to the AP. The result will please Washington Democrats, who are optimistic that he could challenge Knight in his moderate district in a good year for the party.
Caforio bested fellow Democrat Lou Vince, who had the backing of the state Democratic Party.
But in the 21st Congressional District, represented by GOP Rep. David Valadao, attorney Emilio Huerta was struggling to achieve a top-two finish. If he doesn’t, Fowler City Councilman Daniel Parra will face off against Valadao.
With 97 percent of the vote counted, the AP had Parra and Huerta within a couple hundred votes.
Huerta was the pick of national Democrats, who saw the attorney and civil rights activist as the stronger candidate and better fundraiser. But his placement in the top-two runoff wasn’t assured because Parra’s local support, including from Congresswoman Sanchez.
Reps. Knight and Valadao each easily finished atop their respective primaries, according to the AP.
National Democrats also have their eye on the 10th Congressional District, held by GOP Rep. Jeff Denham. Michael Eggman, the 2014 nominee, led his nearest rival for a second spot in the run-off by 13 points with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the AP.
Democrats are hoping that Eggman can lead the charge against Denham in this heavily Hispanic district.
Democrats also received good news in the 24th Congressional District, where Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal was on track to easily finish first in the Democrat-leaning district’s primary, currently held by departing Rep. Lois Capps.
Some party members had been nervous that Carbajal would fail to finish in the top two amid a handful of other Democrats also challenging for the seat. Carbajal is now a heavy favorite to win in November.
California’s 17th District will also feature a rematch between Democratic Rep. Mike Honda and Democrat Ro Khanna, who squared off against each other in 2014 in a contest the incumbent Honda won narrowly. That race drew national attention, pitting the old-school Democrat Honda, who had the support of unions, against the Silicon Valley-friendly Khanna.
In 2014, Honda received 49 percent of the vote to Khanna’s 27 percent. On Tuesday, the two men were 177 votes apart with with 38 percent apiece and AP reporting 100 percent of precincts reporting.
In California’s 7th Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera and Republican Scott Jones advanced to the general election. Jones and Bera were the only two candidates on the ballot.
The Sacramento-area district is a target of Republicans, who think Jones — a Sacramento County sheriff — can pull of the victory.
In the 20th Congressional District, Jimmy Panetta easily won a seat held by the retiring Rep. Sam Farr. The victory likely guarantees that Panetta, son of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, will represent the district in Congress in 2017.
In the 46th Congressional District, the AP declared that the front-runner and former Democratic state senator Lou Correa had finished first in the primary, setting him up to replace the outgoing Sanchez in Congress.