Obama wins Democratic nomination

Obama wins Democratic nomination

Tue Jun 3, 2008 9:42pm EDT
  
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Barack Obama captured the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday, capping a rapid rise from political obscurity to become the first black to lead a major U.S. party into a race for the White House.

A surge of support from uncommitted delegates helped give Obama the 2,118 votes he needed to clinch the nomination and defeat rival Hillary Clinton, a former first lady who entered the race as a heavy favorite.

Obama will be crowned the Democratic nominee at the convention in August and will face Republican John McCain in November’s election to choose a successor to President George W. Bush.

“Tonight, we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another,” Obama said in remarks prepared for a victory celebration in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the site of the Republican convention in September.

“Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.”

Obama’s win over Clinton, projected by U.S. networks, came in one of the closest and longest nomination fights in recent U.S. political history. Five months of voting in 54 nominating contests concluded on Tuesday night with votes in Montana and South Dakota.

Clinton, who would have been the first woman nominee in U.S. political history, won in South Dakota, adding to the more than 1,900 delegates she gathered during the campaign. Her aides gave mixed signals about her immediate intentions, but said she would not concede on Tuesday night.

Facing defeat, Clinton told New York members of Congress that she would be open to becoming Obama’s vice presidential running mate, and her backers began to turn up the pressure on Obama to pick her as his No. 2.

Obama, 46, is serving his first term in the U.S. Senate from Illinois and would be the fifth-youngest president in history. He was an Illinois state senator when he burst on the national scene with a well received keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.

McCain held a rally in Louisiana to kick off the race against Obama. He sought to distance himself from Bush by promising a new energy policy and a plan to curb global warming and said Obama was not independent enough.

“He is an impressive man, who makes a great first impression,” McCain said of Obama. “But he hasn’t been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters to bring real change to Washington. I have.”

Obama, in his prepared remarks, questioned the extent of McCain’s independence and tied him to Bush.

NOT THAT INDEPENDENT

“While John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign,” he said.

“There are many words to describe John McCain‘s attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush’s policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.”

Obama’s campaign had urged the last 150 or so undecided superdelegates to make their endorsement before the voting ended, so the delegates he wins in the two states voting on Tuesday could allow him to clinch the Democratic race.

A steady flow of superdelegates complied, making their announcements throughout the day. Former President Jimmy Carter will endorse Obama when the polls close, the Carter Center said.

Rep. Maxine Waters of California switched from Clinton to Obama, saying “now is the time for us to unite so that real change is possible in November.”

A group of 17 uncommitted Senate Democrats met to discuss the timing of a potential endorsement of Obama. They will meet again on Wednesday.

“Senator Clinton needs to be left alone. Let’s get through the primary process and let this week work it’s course,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters.

Clinton and her campaign have sent mixed signals over the last two days about how long she would stay in a presidential race that she began as a heavy favorite.

During the conference call with New York lawmakers on Tuesday, she was asked about running as the No. 2 to Obama. “I am open to it,” she replied, according to a party aide.

Her campaign backed away, saying she was asked if she was open to the idea of being vice president and “repeated what she has said before: she would do whatever she could to ensure that Democrats take the White House back and defeat John McCain.”

Obama lavished praise on Clinton after beating her.

“Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she’s a leader who inspires millions of Americans,” he said in his prepared text.

“Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton,” he said. 

 

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

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