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Clinton crushes Sanders in California, cementing grip on historic nomination

After many hard-fought months, the presidential primary season effectively drew to a close as Hillary Clinton notched major wins in New Jersey and California — all but guaranteeing her becoming the first female major party presidential nominee.

With no opponents remaining, Donald Trump was already the presumptive Republican nominee, and Clinton had been awarded that mantle for the Democrats Monday night based on NBC's count of both pledged and so-called "super" delegates. But voters in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana took to the polls on Tuesday to cast their votes for the former secretary of state or her last remaining opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

NBC News projected that Clinton would win the California, New Jersey, and New Mexico primaries. She was also the apparent winner in South Dakota, NBC said. In North Dakota and Montana, meanwhile, Sanders was the projected winner.

But even before California was called, NBC made a major announcement just as results from the state first started rolling in. Based on initial reports, NBC News was able to allocate 140 pledged delegates each to Clinton and Sanders. Importantly, this gave Clinton 2,043 pledged delegates, guaranteeing that she will have an outright pledged delegate majority over Sanders no matter what else happens.

At one point in the race, Sanders' campaign had suggested that the pledged delegate count was the most important metric for a fair Democratic nomination.

Still, Sanders pledged late Tuesday (Pacific time) to "continue the fight" into next week for the D.C. primary, and then on to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

But in a confident Tuesday night address, Clinton turned firmly to the general election, hitting Trump on multiple fronts.

"The stakes in this election are high, and the choice is clear: Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander-in-chief," she said Tuesday. "And he's not just trying to build a wall between America and Mexico, he's trying to wall off Americans from each other."

This domestic separation, she said, is inherent in Trump's message of taking the country back to a previous "great" period.

"When he says 'let's make America great again,' that's code for 'let's take America backwards' — back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all," she said. "We, however, we want to write the next chapter in American greatness with a 21st Century prosperity that lifts everyone who has been left out and left behind, including those who may not vote for us, but deserve their chance to make a new beginning."

Sanders' camp contested Clinton's "presumptive" designation given by NBC, the Associated Press and others on Monday, arguing that superdelegates are free to change their preference until the party's convention in July. As the campaign and its supporters correctly identified, neither Clinton nor Sanders are likely to win the required 2,383 delegates without incorporating supers into their count, but that remains a daunting task.

By NBC's count, Clinton had won 1812 pledged delegates and held the support of 573 superdelegates (making 2,385) before Tuesday's polls closed. Sanders, on the other hand, only had a total of 1,567 combined delegates, according to NBC.

And that margin is not just a quirk of a convoluted primary system, as Clinton has easily bested Sanders in the season's total popular vote going into Tuesday — by more than 3 million, according to most counts.

Still, Sanders has argued that he is the best candidate to take on Trump in the general election.

"Our job from now until the convention is to convince those superdelegates that Bernie is by far the strongest candidate against Donald Trump," Michael Briggs, Sanders' spokesman, said in a Monday statement.

Trump, meanwhile, issued a call on Tuesday evening for Sanders' supporters to come over to his own campaign.

If Clinton does indeed become the nominee — as will likely be the case as long as she doesn't drop out — the question will then become if Sanders' active supporters are willing to fall behind the Democratic standard-bearer.

In a Tuesday evening statement, the White House said President Barack Obama had called Clinton to congratulate her on "securing the delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination for president," according to a statement from the White House.

Obama also called Sanders, the statement said, and has arranged to meet with him on Thursday — at the senator's request.