Michael Mathes - Hillary Clinton ventures to California aiming to snatch a Democratic nomination victory next week and dash the White House dreams of rival Bernie Sanders, allowing her to finally turn to her election matchup against Donald Trump.

Clinton has six days to press her case in the nation’s most populous state, where she is desperate to secure a symbolic victory and take Sanders’ last remaining argument for staying in the presidential race off the table.

Still-popular former president Bill Clinton heads out West on his wife’s behalf, launching a five-day campaign swing beginning Thursday that will take him “up and down California,” while Hillary holds her own packed schedule of rallies there beginning Thursday, according to her campaign.

But Sanders is mounting a last stand of sorts in the progressive bastion, where he has campaigned relentlessly for several days. He is out to prove on June 7 - the final “Super Tuesday” of 2016, with six states voting - that he can beat the nearly impossible odds to become the Democratic Party’s standardbearer.

“We have an excellent chance to win California, and it’s just possible that we might win it in a significant way,” Sanders told a press conference Wednesday in the town of Spreckels.

“And if we win California, and if we win South Dakota, and North Dakota, and Montana, and New Mexico and New Jersey... and the following week do well in Washington, DC, I think we will be marching into the Democratic convention with an enormous amount of momentum.” But the US nominations process is based on winning delegates, and on that score Clinton is leading.

She has amassed 2,313 delegates, according to CNN’s tally, just 70 shy of the number needed to clinch the nomination.

Sanders is considerably behind, at 1,545 delegates. But the US senator from Vermont has long argued that Clinton’s lead is largely based on her broad advantage with so-called super-delegates, party grandees who can vote for whomever they wish at the national convention.

Without the huge super-delegate advantage, Clinton’s lead is far narrower, something Sanders has repeatedly stressed. Sanders had a message Wednesday for super-delegates: “Please listen to the voters in your own state,” he said.

Several hundred delegates are up for grabs next Tuesday, and Clinton is all but assured of surpassing the threshold. She is expected to inch right to the cusp of victory after caucuses are held at the weekend in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where Clinton is favored to win.

Tightening race

“I do expect to be the Democratic nominee but I want to finish strong in California,” she told ABC Radio, “because we need to just pull together to take on Donald Trump and prevent him from setting our country back.”

Clinton is in the paradoxical situation of being on the verge of a historic step - becoming the first female nominee of a major US political party - even as she struggles to win support from Americans.

Polls show her unfavorability ratings rivaling Trump’s, and her challenge over the next five months will be to unify Democrats, including progressive Sanders supporters, and regain the trust of voters skeptical about Clinton’s use of a personal email account while she was secretary of state.

Polls show Clinton ahead in California, but the race is tightening. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out Wednesday showed Clinton ahead of Sanders 49 percent to 47 percent among California Democratic voters.

“It is our campaign that has the energy and the enthusiasm,” Sanders said, noting that more than 200,000 Californians have attended his rallies.

Clinton’s crowds are usually smaller, but she has earned the endorsement of California Governor Jerry Brown and most of the state’s congressional Democrats. Clinton is due to deliver a foreign policy speech Thursday in San Diego, where she will present herself as an experienced stateswoman who has dealt with several international crises.

Trump on the other hand, has “disqualified himself completely” from being commander in chief, she said Wednesday in Newark, New Jersey. “He has attacked our closest allies, he has said let’s pull out of NATO, he has praised the dictator of North Korea (and) he’s advocated more countries getting nuclear weapons.”

Nationally Clinton’s lead over Trump has shrunk to just 1.5 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics poll average.–AFP