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Clinton Can Claim Nomination, Sanders Doesn't Give Up

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Hillary Clinton marked a milestone yesterday. The Associated Press announced Clinton had arrived at the magic number needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. That makes her the presumptive Democratic nominee, even as six states hold primaries or caucuses today, including here in California. Clinton is now on track to be the first woman to head a major party ticket in U.S. history.

Bernie Sanders' campaign is disputing the AP's call for Clinton. And in a moment, we'll hear from one of his backers. But first, joining us here at NPR West - and glad to have you in the studios - is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be here with you.

MONTAGNE: What exactly changed yesterday?

ELVING: What the AP has done here is just what the AP did a couple of weeks ago when they declared Donald Trump to be the presumptive nominee for the Republicans. They took the pledged delegate totals that we all know plus the public declarations of support from unpledged delegates. Those are the free agents, if you will. And that added up to a majority of all the delegates. First for Trump, now for Clinton.

So even though no one actually voted yesterday, the AP, in its survey of superdelegates, picked up about a score of new commitments to Hillary that, added to the Clinton wins over the weekend in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, put her over the top.

MONTAGNE: Well, at least on the Democratic side, in the six states holding events today, doesn't this put a damper on things?

ELVING: In one sense, it should not. It changes nothing about the candidates or their relative standing or their values. But it could have some effect on turnout. Clinton supporters might say, hey, why bother? It's over.

And on the other side, the Sanders camp could see an opposite effect. You could see people actually feeling a sort of defiant motivation from this. And Sanders has been warning the media don't rush to judgment. And this could reinforce that critique.

MONTAGNE: Ultimately, though, is there any surprise in what the AP has found? As you pointed out, it's making concrete what has been talked about.

ELVING: It's not a big surprise because we saw the weekend results bring her right to the brink. And we have known for weeks that many of the superdelegates who were officially uncommitted were likely to fall to Clinton. And the AP essentially here has stolen a march on what we expected to see happen tonight.

We knew that when the polls close in New Jersey at 8 o'clock, she would have enough delegates to win on a first ballot. And we've expected her to say exactly that tonight at her rally in Brooklyn. And I suspect that she still will.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, as we've said, the Sanders campaign is pushing back on this. It says that the superdelegates should not be counted until they actually vote at the convention.

ELVING: That's what they say, that Bernie Sanders should be able to convince the superdelegates to switch despite her lead in the popular vote and despite her majority of the pledged delegates, even though right now the superdelegates are 10 to 1 for Clinton and not a single one of them has thus far switched from Clinton to Sanders. The Sanders camp still sees a chance to convince hundreds of superdelegates that he would be the stronger candidate against Trump. And they can point to some polling that says just that.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Renee.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. Let's get the view now from the Sanders camp. Along with California, New Jersey is one of the six states holding primaries or caucuses today. And we're going to speak now with Democratic state Assemblyman John Wisniewski from the state of New Jersey. He's the head of the Sanders campaign in that state. Mr. Wisniewski, good morning.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI: Good morning. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. Thank you for joining us this morning. So as you listen to that news from the Associated Press declaring Hillary Clinton having the number of delegates she needs to be the presumptive nominee, I mean, is this race now for the Democratic nomination effectively over?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think the Democratic nomination is going to be decided in Philadelphia at the convention. As we speak today and as the election is concluded tonight, neither candidate's going to have enough elected delegates to get the nomination. They're going to have to rely on superdelegates.

And those votes won't be cast until the convention in Philadelphia. I think what the AP did was an unfortunate rush to judgment. They should have waited until after all of the primaries were finished before making any pronouncements.

GREENE: Well - stay with me if you can.

WISNIEWSKI: Sure.

GREENE: I want to listen together, if you'd be willing, to a piece from my colleague, NPR's Sam Sanders. He's been covering the Bernie Sanders campaign for a good while now. And he was with your candidate yesterday in Northern California.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Bernie Sanders held an outdoor rally in San Francisco last night, with the Golden Gate Bridge as backdrop and Dave Matthews as the opening act. It was definitely a party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie...

S. SANDERS: But the entire night, something was a little off. Walking up, you could hear people telling their friends and themselves that they knew Bernie was going to lose the nomination. And just before Sanders came to the podium, the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee. You could say that it was over last night, but one of the speakers, former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, she disagreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NINA TURNER: We will not relent. We will fight on.

(CHEERING)

TURNER: And when the mainstream media calls the polls - calls the election 'cause they already planning to do it to suppress the votes in California, we will fight on.

(CHEERING)

S. SANDERS: Sanders said earlier Monday that he'd keep campaigning, even after California, until the final primary in Washington, D.C., next week. Once Sanders finally spoke at the rally last night, he didn't talk about the delegate news at all. His stump speech was a lot like the one he gave the day before and the day before that. And Sanders reminded the crowd just how far they've come.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: When we began our campaign, our ideas were considered a fringe campaign and fringe ideas. That is not the case today.

(APPLAUSE)

S. SANDERS: In the crowd, Sanders supporters like Genei Baker were making sense of his apparent loss, even if the candidate refused to do so.

GENEI BAKER: It doesn't matter. Even if he doesn't win, he's - look at all these young people. He's gotten people to vote. Nobody cares about voting anymore. So that's good.

S. SANDERS: But the process has left Aaron Selverston disillusioned. For him, the party rules and the delegate math were rigged against Sanders.

AARON SELVERSTON: I think the whole argument about the math is irrelevant...

S. SANDERS: Selverston's allegiance is really to Bernie Sanders.

SELVERSTON: ...Because it's not about some sort of allegiance to a party. The party has failed. The party has failed half of the people who typically vote Democratic. And those are the half of people that are supporting Bernie.

S. SANDERS: Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton will need votes like Selverston's in November. But from the sound of things last night, earning those votes might be a heavy lift.

GREENE: OK. That's our colleague Sam Sanders, who's covering Bernie Sanders' campaign in the state of California. Still on the line we have New Jersey Democratic state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is chairman of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the state of New Jersey where there will be voting today.

And let me just ask you what you make of that. It sounds like a mix of opinions. Some people sort of believing there's a new reality they must face. Some vowing to fight on. I guess - I wondered, there's been so much momentum behind your candidate. Are you concerned that some of the momentum is starting to drain away?

WISNIEWSKI: No, I'm not concerned that the momentum's draining away. We have today's primaries in California and New Jersey. We have to go all the way through the D.C. primary next week. And then we have the convention. As we end the primary season, it is likely neither candidate will have enough elected delegates to secure the nomination. So it's going to be all about the superdelegates.

What Senator Sanders has said - let's make the case to the superdelegates. Let's make the case about which candidate is the best one positioned to beat Donald Trump in November. Which candidate is drawing thousands of people to rallies? Which candidate has the ability to attract grassroots fundraising, has the ability to bring thousands of new voters into the process? That's Bernie Sanders.

GREENE: So you are a superdelegate yourself supporting Bernie Sanders.

WISNIEWSKI: I am.

GREENE: Scores more of superdelegates at this point have pledged themselves to Hillary Clinton. I mean, tell me what is happening. Are you making the case to some of these Clinton superdelegates? Have any of them told you that they might be willing to switch over, especially if your candidate does well today?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, let's not forget that many of the superdelegates made their pledge to Secretary Clinton long before there was a contested primary. I mean, early on in this process, it appeared that there was going to just be one candidate.

And many superdelegates said, OK, fine, you know, I'm going to make that choice. And I think there's an opportunity to make the case about the candidate who is generating the enthusiasm, who has the ideas that need to move America forward.

GREENE: I guess I think about - you know, we've heard from some voters who talk about just wanting kind of an outside-the-establishment candidate. There's been some polling to suggest that there are at least a number of Bernie Sanders supporters who would think about going to Donald Trump. Would keeping this conversation going leave Hillary Clinton less time to sort of win over those Democratic voters and Donald Trump sort of more time to say, you know, you guys are fighting amongst yourselves. Come to me.

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think the primary process is where the candidates try to win over everybody, including your opponent's supporters. And that is what Secretary Clinton should be trying to do as we speak, not waiting until Philadelphia to do that. And then that's what Senator Sanders is working on as well. I don't think that ending the debate is a way to make the party stronger. I think the way we make the party stronger is by trying to include all of these different views that Senator Sanders has brought to the table.

Look, they're views that people are looking for. They're looking for a candidate who's willing to talk about the economic realities that they feel every day, where the middle class continues to get squeezed. That's what Senator Sanders is talking about. And that has not been part of the mainstream discussion with Secretary Clinton.

GREENE: I mean, these are things that Hillary Clinton would say she has supported before. Is it a matter of emphasis and really making sure to highlight those things as much as Bernie Sanders would like?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I also think it's a - the manner in which the candidates have approached the issues. I think that Secretary Clinton has approached some of these issues with a grudging incrementalism that says, look, we can't solve these problems today. We're going to have to wait to fix these problems. And the supporters of Senator Sanders say, well, why are we waiting? Why should we wait? We need to fix them now because the middle class is losing every single day.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking with John Wisniewski. He is the deputy speaker of the New Jersey general assembly, and he is chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the state of New Jersey. Thanks so much for talking to us this morning. We appreciate it.

WISNIEWSKI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.