LOS ANGELES With the Democratic presidential nomination effectively wrapped up, Hillary Clinton's campaign urged supporters to head to the polls in Tuesday's nominating contests in hopes that victories will persuade rival Bernie Sanders to bow out of the race.
Clinton secured enough delegates to win the nomination before Tuesday's voting, U.S. media outlets reported on Monday night. But Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said they were pushing supporters and volunteers to "stay at this" for the contests in New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico and California - where she still risks a loss to Sanders.
"We're on the verge of making history, and we're going to celebrate that tonight," Mook told CNN. "There's a lot of people we want to make sure turn out today. We do not want to send a message that anybody's vote doesn't count."
A former U.S. secretary of state, Clinton would be the first woman presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party. She wants to move beyond the primary battle and turn her attention to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Nov. 8 election.
But despite growing pressure from party luminaries for him to exit the race, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who describes himself as a democratic socialist, has vowed to stay in until next month's party convention that formally picks the nominee.
California is the biggest prize on Tuesday - the last and largest state to vote in what became a surprisingly tough Democratic primary race.
If Sanders, who was trailing in polls in California until recently, won the state, it would not be enough for him to catch Clinton in the overall delegate count, but it could fuel his continued presence in the race.
"We will look forward tonight to marking having reached the threshold of a majority of the pledged delegates,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN, referring to delegates won in primary contests. "And at that point, Bernie Sanders will be out of our race."
Sanders has commanded huge crowds, galvanizing younger voters with promises to address economic inequality. But Clinton has edged him out, particularly among older voters, with a more pragmatic campaign focussed on building on President Barack Obama's policies.
Steven Acosta, a 47-year-old teacher living in Los Angeles, voted for Clinton on Tuesday, saying this was partly because he believes she stands a better chance of winning in November.
"I like what Bernie Sanders says and I agree with almost everything that he says," Acosta said. "The problem is that I think Republicans would really unify ... even more against him."
'RUSH TO JUDGEMENT'
Sanders was determined to stay in the race, even after the Associated Press and NBC reported on Monday night that Clinton had clinched the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. A Sanders campaign spokesman castigated what he said was the media's "rush to judgement."
Under Democratic National Committee rules, most delegates to the July 25-28 convention are awarded by popular votes in state-by-state elections, and Clinton has a clear lead in those "pledged" delegates.
But the delegate count also includes "superdelegates" - party leaders and elected senators, members of Congress and governors - who in theory can change their mind at any time. Clinton's superdelegate support outnumbers Sanders' by more than 10 to 1.
In practice, superdelegates who have announced their intention are unlikely to change their minds. Sanders would have to get more than 60 percent of the superdelegates backing Clinton to switch their votes. So far, his campaign manager Jeff Weaver acknowledged they have not converted a single delegate.
Obama is eager to start campaigning, but the White House said he wanted to give voters an opportunity to cast ballots before weighing in on the Democratic race. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was aware of media calculations showing Clinton has clinched the nomination.
"However at this point there is at least one superdelegate - the one who works in the Oval Office - who's not prepared to make a public declaration about his endorsement at this point," Earnest said, referring to Obama's superdelegate vote as president.
Clinton secured the endorsement on Tuesday of Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, who withheld her support until voting day.
CHALLENGE TO WIN SUPPORTERS
Dr. David Hunt, 67, a neurosurgeon from Hoboken, New Jersey, said he was aware the media had declared Clinton had clinched the nomination, but still voted for Sanders.
“If he wins California and New Jersey, which I suspect he won’t, then he should continue campaigning, but on issues only, and not on personality,” he said. “But if he loses California and New Jersey he should absolutely concede and formally, actively work for Hillary. If he splits the two states, well then it is an interesting call.”
Clinton will face a challenge to win over Sanders supporters.
They have become increasingly resistant in recent months, with fewer than half saying they would vote for her if she becomes the party’s nominee, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in May.
Last month, 41 percent of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Clinton if she runs against Trump in the general election. That was down from 50 percent in April, and 52 percent in March.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll included 2,919 Sanders supporters during the month of May and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points.
(Writing by Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Jonathan Allen and Chris Kahn in New York; Joseph Ax and Frank McGurty in New Jersey; Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in California; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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