When then-Senator Barack Obama won the nomination on June 3, 2008, the news was watched by millions of Americans. Obama won the nomination on the final night of primaries. More than seven million Americans watched the top three cable news channels that night.
Eight years later, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama’s opponent for the nomination, won the nomination herself. However, she did so in a significantly quieter manner. She did not clinch the nomination after winning a primary. She did not even clinch it on the night of a primary.
Rather, she won it the night before the last primaries. The Clinton campaign had planned to clinch the nomination the night of the New Jersey and California primaries, with some estimates projecting that a win in New Jersey would put her over the top. Instead of basking in the win, the Clinton campaign had to worry that supporters would sit out the primaries in New Jersey and California, possibly handing a victory to Senator Bernie Sanders, who is refusing to drop out of the race. Clinton won the nomination due to superdelegates saying that they would back her. The same notorious superdelegates that Sanders would regularly attack on the stump as being undemocratic.
The news of Obama winning the nomination occurred on television. More than seven million Americans watched coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. CNN alone had 4.5 million viewers during the 10 PM hour when Obama spoke as the presumptive nominee. ABC was the only network to broadcast Obama’s remarks live and that brought in an additional four million viewers. From those four channels alone, more than eleven million Americans watched Obama make history as the first African-American to be the nominee of a major party.
Clinton’s nomination, on the other hand, was announced not on television, but Twitter. The Associated Press, through the daily contacting and calculating of delegates, determined that Clinton had hit the 2,383 delegate threshold exactly. The first tweet breaking the news had 1,081 retweets as of publication. A subsequent tweet had 3,960 retweets. Clinton responded to the news by tweeting, “We’re flattered, @AP, but we’ve got primaries to win. CA, MT, NM, ND, NJ, SD, vote tomorrow!”
The AP broke the news shortly after 5 PM ET. During that hour, the three cable news networks combined had about 3.5 million viewers, or less than CNN alone did in 2008. Ratings increased in primetime, but the three still only had about 5 million viewers.
Clinton will more formally speak as the party’s presumptive on Tuesday night following the New Jersey primary. She is expected to speak around 10 PM ET, an hour before the polls in California will close. That state is the elephant in the room as the Clinton campaign fears that it could lose the biggest state in the Union and the Democratic Party. Sanders has had a singular focus on California for several weeks and polls indicate a close race. Losing that state could be a major blunder on an otherwise positive night for the campaign and embolden Sanders and his supporters as the Clinton campaign looks to focus on the general election.