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Hillary Clinton making history as US votes in last big primaries

NEW YORK: Americans voted Tuesday in the last major state primaries of the 2016 White House race from New Jersey to California, after delegate counts showed Hillary Clinton clinching the Democratic nomination.

The results are expected to see Clinton declare victory as the first woman in US history to secure the presidential nomination of a major party, putting her on course for an unprecedented showdown with New York billionaire Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican party nominee, in November’s general election.

Her self-declared Democratic socialist challenger Bernie Sanders has so far ignored media reports that she has already clinched the magic number of delegates. He is chasing a win in California, the country’s most populous state, and insisting the nominee will not be chosen until the party convention in July.

Voting was underway in six states — New Jersey, California, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. New Jersey and the Dakotas will be the first polls to close at 8:00 pm Eastern time (0000 GMT Wednesday).

It remained unclear what effect the US media reports that Clinton had passed the milestone of 2,383 delegates late Monday to secure her status as the presumptive Democratic nominee would have on those casting ballots Tuesday.

“I’m a Bernie Sanders guy all the way.” said 21-year-old student Saul Gomez, voting in Los Angeles. “Honestly he seems a lot more genuine to me,” he said. “He’s consistent, and I dig that.”

Clinton — the 68-year-old former first lady, New York senator and for four years Barack Obama’s top diplomat — is scheduled to deliver a victory speech in Brooklyn late Tuesday in perhaps the pinnacle of her political career to date.

– Historic moment –

It marks a dramatic resurgence for the woman often described as the most experienced US presidential candidate in generations, but who remains mired in scandal about her emails and perceptions of dishonesty — leaving her with unpopularity ratings surpassed only by the controversial Trump.

Her stiff campaigning style saw her lose to Barack Obama in the 2008 battle for the Democratic nomination and has drawn stark contrast to the crowds of thousands of young people that 74-year-old Sanders has energized nationwide.

Clinton, who trails Trump by nearly two weeks in securing her party’s presumptive nomination, has refrained from getting too carried away by the US network tallies, urging her supporters to still come out and vote.

“We are on the brink of a historic, historic, unprecedented moment,” she said in Long Beach, California. “But we still have work to do, don’t we?”

On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who was the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives and is a California superdelegate this year — formally endorsed Clinton shortly before voting kicked off in her home state.

California Senator Barbara Boxer said it was a thrilling moment, nearly 100 years after women first won the national vote in 1920.

“My heart is beating faster today,” Boxer told CNN. “The men had a very big head start on us, particularly white men, as you know. So it has taken us a long time to prove to the people. All we’re saying is we’re equal.”

– Unity –

While polls predict a tight race between Clinton and Sanders in California, a loss there would not prove mortal. Clinton has won three million more votes than Sanders and is well ahead in the pledged delegate count.

Her campaign manager said they would celebrate Tuesday night and then focus on unifying the party in a bid to defeat Trump, praising Sanders for his campaign and calling him an “important spokesperson” in the months ahead.

“It will be time for the party to start to come together and make sure that we rally behind our nominee,” Robby Mook told CNN.

“Senator Sanders and his campaign have achieved incredible things. They’ve brought so many people into the process… these people will be so important to winning the general election,” Mook said.

Republican grandees have assailed Trump for making belligerent attacks on a judge presiding over a case against one of his business interests, calling him biased because he is of Mexican descent.

Republican speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday hit out at Trump’s remarks as “the textbook definition of a racist comment” and “indefensible” but said the party must unite for November.

“I see it as my job as speaker of the house to keep our party unified. I think if we go into the fall as a divided party, we are doomed to lose,” he said. –AFP

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