clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic presidential nomination

Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The final significant day of presidential primary voting has come to a close, and Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

While the exact vote totals in a few states, especially California, were still being counted at press time, preliminary totals make it clear that Clinton will end up with more total delegates, more pledged delegates, and more total votes nationwide than Bernie Sanders — making her the winner of the race by every traditional metric.

Sanders has not yet conceded, and in recent days he has maintained that he would keep on fighting until the Democratic convention in July. But it's not yet clear if he will go through with those plans. At this point, his hopes necessarily hinge on the incredibly unlikely prospect that he can convince superdelegates to overturn the will of Democratic voters and switch to his side.

Clinton's victory is a historic one. After more than two centuries in which every major party US presidential nominee has been a man, Clinton is set to become the first woman to win that honor. And since she leads Republican nominee Donald Trump in polling averages, she's the favorite to become the first woman president, too.

And her primary win didn't come easy. Though the Democratic Party worked overtime to clear the field and ensure an easy nomination win for Clinton, Sanders proved to be a far more formidable and tenacious opponent than practically anyone expected — and he overwhelmingly won among young voters in particular.

Furthermore, Clinton has grown very unpopular over the course of the primaries. In fact, she'd be the second most unpopular major party nominee ever — behind only Donald Trump.

Clinton's win represents a triumph for the Democratic establishment

Eight years ago this month, Hillary Clinton brought a bitter and hard-fought presidential primary campaign to a close by endorsing her opponent, Barack Obama. And at the time, it seemed to many like a new era in the Democratic Party had dawned, with Clinton and her husband being relegated to figures of the past.

It didn't turn out that way. Obama relied heavily on Clinton allies to staff his White House — the most notable of whom was, of course, Hillary Clinton herself. Clinton was initially reluctant to give up her independence in the Senate to hitch herself to Obama's administration, but she eventually gave in and decided to accept the position of secretary of state.

That turned out to be a fantastic move. Mostly removed from the day-to-day partisan fray, Clinton became extremely popular, particularly among Democrats, and established a strong claim to be Obama's heir apparent. And the vast majority of Democratic elected officials and liberal-aligned interest groups fell behind her.

When 2015 began, Clinton's support within the party and in early polls looked so strong that that many believed she could win the 2016 nomination in a walk — and potentially formidable challengers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren opted against running, thinking they had little chance of success.

The party wanted Clinton, and it looked like it would get her, easily. Even the news that Clinton had used a private server for all of her State Department email — news that soon led to government inquiries into whether any laws were broken — didn't seem to make much of a difference.

Bernie Sanders was far more successful than practically anyone expected him to be

In the end, though, things didn't go so smoothly for Clinton.

Democratic voters yawned at most of the challengers the frontrunner ended up drawing — former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee excited practically no one.

Bernie Sanders was different.

Few took the Vermont senator seriously at the beginning of the year. After all, he wasn't even a member of the Democratic Party — he'd defined himself as an independent "democratic socialist" for decades. And his polling in 2015 looked dismal.

But Sanders ended up being wonderfully positioned to capitalize on many of Clinton's weaknesses.

  • Where Clinton was the ultimate insider, Sanders was the ultimate outsider.
  • Where Clinton had raked in expensive speaking fees — including at Goldman Sachs — Sanders was a harsh, consistent critic of inequality and Wall Street excesses.
  • Where Clinton could raise millions in cash from big donors, Sanders built a small-donor fundraising army.
  • Where Clinton couldn't plausibly promise a major shake-up of the immensely frustrating political system, Sanders inspired supporters with the hope of a political revolution.

By August of last year, Sanders took the lead in New Hampshire polls — a lead he'd never relinquish. He eventually surged to win an effective tie in the Iowa caucuses, too. And he utterly dominated among young voters, suggesting that a new generation of Democratic voters was far from enthusiastic about a Clinton restoration.

But Clinton fended off Sanders

In the end, though, Clinton's decades of involvement in Democratic Party building paid off. For one, the party and interest group apparatus remained solidly behind her the whole way through — there was no mass defection to Sanders when she stumbled early on.

More importantly, Clinton utterly dominated among black voters, a crucially important part of the Democratic coalition. Accordingly, she won massive landslides in populous Southern and mid-Atlantic primary states.

And Democratic primary rules — which award delegates proportionally, according to candidates' support in each state — meant that those landslides victories were crucial in giving Clinton in advantage in the delegate count.

By mid-March, Clinton had already amassed a lead in pledged delegates that most number crunchers thought was effectively insurmountable. That lead went up and down a bit over the ensuing months, but Sanders never managed to erase it. Clinton simply won more votes and more pledged delegates.

Furthermore, Clinton has utterly dominated among superdelegates, which only pads her existing lead among ordinary delegates. She's won 571 endorsements from them, according to the Associated Press. And not a single superdelegate has switched from supporting Clinton to supporting Sanders so far.

Clinton's victory speech emphasized the historic nature of her victory

As Clinton delivered her victory speech in Brooklyn Tuesday night, she focused a great deal on the history-making nature of her achievement.

"It may be hard to see tonight, but we're all standing under a glass ceiling right now," Clinton told supporters. "But don't worry. We're not smashing this one. Thanks to you, we've reached a milestone: the first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee."

This moment, Clinton said, "belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible," including 19th-century activists in Seneca Falls, New York, who "came together with the idea that women deserved equal rights."

Clinton praised Sanders's candidacy while sharply criticizing presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as temperamentally unfit to be president of the United States. She concluded by saying that "this campaign is about making clear there are no ceilings, no limits, on any of us."

The campaign hasn't been easy for Clinton, and she enters the general election with high unfavorable ratings. But she already has a small lead on Trump in polls, and Democrats hope that once Sanders wraps up his campaign, he'll rally his supporters to help Clinton defeat Trump.