“Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone,” an ecstatic Clinton told roaring supporters in New York, “the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee.”
The former first lady took a monumental step back toward the White House by winning New Jersey, one of six states voting in the last major date of the 2016 primary calendar.
The triumph came almost eight years to the day since Clinton’s first bid for the Oval Office bid was spectacularly thwarted by a charismatic young senator called Barack Obama.
Two terms later, the 68-year-old declared another glass ceiling broken and set up a monumental showdown in November with millionaire Donald Trump, the bombastic Republican flagbearer.
“We believe that we are stronger together and the stakes in this election are high, and the choice is clear,” she said — before launching into a frontal attack on her Republican rival.
“Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief,” she said, using rhetoric that would have unthinkable before this tempestuous election season.
– Bernie or bust? –
Clinton held a commanding lead over her Democratic Party rival Bernie Sanders even before Tuesday’s votes, having passed the magic number of 2,383 delegates required to clinch the nomination.
But like Obama before her, Clinton must now reconcile a bruised and deeply divided party and rally it behind her in the brutal match against Trump.
Sanders — who has yet to concede defeat — has harnessed a tidal wave of anger at the ruling political class.
With an insurgent campaign he challenged Clinton harder for the party nomination than most believed was possible.
“I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for an extraordinary campaign,” Clinton said, touching on the watchwords of her rival — inequality and upward mobility.
“It never feels good to put your heart into a cause,” she said, “and to come up short.”
The drive for party unity is likely to receive another shot in the arm when Obama comes off the sidelines and offers his own endorsement of Clinton, as soon as Wednesday.
That will not come as surprise, but it will serve to coax hardline “Bernie or bust” fans back into the party tent.
Obama has approval ratings above 80 percent with liberal democrats who make up the bulk of Sanders’ support.
– Trump on offensive –
Trump, who himself won a slew of primary races, signaled Tuesday he plans to go on the offensive against Hillary and Bill Clinton.
“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves,” he told supporters at his golf property in New York state.
“They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts.”
“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” he said.
“I think you’re going to find it very informative and very very interesting.”
Clinton remains mired in scandal about her use of a private email server as secretary of state and perceptions of dishonesty — leaving her with unpopularity ratings surpassed only by the controversial Trump.
The millionaire has faltered badly since he won the Republican nomination, with violence-marred rallies, run-ins with the press and a widely condemned racial attack on a federal judge who is investigating his now-defunct Trump University.
Leaders of Trump’s own Republican Party described that as textbook racism.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, clearly aware the debacle could do lasting damage to Republican election hopes, called Trump’s “racist” attacks “absolutely unacceptable.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the presumptive Republican nominee to “quit attacking… various minority groups in the country and get on message.”