Hillary Clinton rallied with a few hundred supporters on Saturday in California farm town Oxnard.
But the real party occurred in nearby Los Angeles, where thousands of young voters gathered to see their hero Bernie Sanders.
Both politicians have been criss-crossing the largest state in the union before tomorrow’s primary, and while it is Clinton who is all but certain to prevail in their national battle, Sanders still appears to draw larger and more energised crowds.
The stark difference – Clinton speaking to hundreds in a high school gymnasium in Oxnard, Sanders inspiring thousands at the Los Angeles Coliseum – highlights the challenges of a candidate who turns towards her head-to-head battle with Donald Trump with only tepid support from many Democrats.
“I would say there’s some Hillary fatigue out there,” Jeremy Jackson, a 39-year-old teacher in Oxnard, said, reflecting on the more than three decades in which Clinton has been in America’s public eye.
“Plus, people don’t like a common-sense approach. They want extreme.”
Clintonites don’t have “all the pizzazz, but that doesn’t mean we’re not as enthusiastic”, added a federal law expert in Oxnard who identified herself as Erica B, age 35. “We’re tired of having to defend Hillary, so we’re not always super vocal.”
Clinton’s campaign exudes party establishment – she was a US senator, served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, and was first lady in Bill Clinton’s presidency, while Sanders epitomises the scrappy outsider.
She would make history as the country’s first female commander-in-chief, but even that milestone would be tempered after Barack Obama’s landmark achievement eight years ago, when he became the first African-American commander-in-chief.
Clinton’s unfavourable ratings are sky high, similar to those of Donald Trump, the braggadocios billionaire who is 2016’s presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Sanders argued at his Saturday rally that he consistently fared better against Trump than Clinton did. He also said he would take his fight all the way to the Democratic convention next month where he aims to sway enough super-delegates – unbound delegates who can vote for whomever they choose at the convention – in his favour to win the nomination.
It is a tall order. Clinton has amassed 2313 total delegates, according to CNN’s tally, just 70 shy of the number needed to clinch the nomination.
She inched closer to the goal on Saturday, winning the caucus in the Virgin Islands, where seven pledged delegates were at stake. Puerto Rico’s 60 delegates were up for grabs yesterday.
With more than 600 pledged delegates in play tomorrow, Clinton will wrap up the nominations race when California, New Jersey and four other states vote.
So why isn’t there a swell of support for one of America’s most respected women? Shannon Freshour, a paralegal from Los Angeles at Clinton’s Oxnard event, offered an answer.
Clinton is a known quantity for millions, especially those backing her, the 41-year-old said. “The only enthusiasm that matters is showing up to the polls.”
Clinton had won three million more votes in the primary race, Freshour noted.
Many Clinton supporters insist she will unite the party and head into the general election with strong advantages over Trump in terms of experience, policy positions, and commitment to improving middle- and working-class lives.
“I think Hillary’s momentum is strong,” US congresswoman Julia Brownley said after Clinton’s event, noting that the candidate’s support has “strengthened” after last week’s foreign policy speech in which she hammered Trump.
But Clinton is under threat of losing California, which she won in 2008 when she finished strong against Barack Obama in the primary.
Now she is the one facing an extraordinary push by a challenger.