Obama Takes Delegate Majority

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spoke from Des Moines, Iowa Tuesday night after winning the Oregon primary, citing the progress his campaign had made since the January caucuses.Video by APEditor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama crossed another threshold last night in his march toward the Democratic presidential nomination, splitting a pair of primaries with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and claiming a majority of the pledged delegates at stake in the long nomination battle.

Obama scored an easy victory in Oregon after being trounced by Clinton in Kentucky. The results left him fewer than 100 delegates short of the 2,026 currently required to win the party's nomination in one of the closest contests that Democrats have staged in a generation.

The senator from Illinois stopped short of claiming the nomination, a milestone he may not be able to reach until the end of the primaries on June 3. But he staged a victory rally in Iowa, the site of his first big win of the year, to highlight his near-lock on the nomination and to continue to shift his focus to a general-election campaign against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Recalling the lengthy road he has traveled, Obama told a boisterous crowd gathered near the Iowa state Capitol: "Tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States."

Obama's claim to the most pledged delegates last night was also a not-so-subtle message to the remaining uncommitted superdelegates that if they now endorse Clinton, they will be going against the will of Democratic voters nationwide.

Well before Obama took the stage in Iowa, Clinton spoke to cheering supporters in Louisville, and again signaled her determination to stay in the race until she or Obama has locked down a majority of the delegates. "This is one of the closest races for a party's nomination in history," she said. "We're winning the popular vote, and I'm more determined than ever to see that every vote is cast and every ballot counted."

Clinton said that she will campaign in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota, where the three remaining contests will be held, and that she will keep pressing to seat the full delegations from Michigan and Florida, whose primaries were disallowed because their timing violated Democratic Party rules. "I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be," she said.

In Kentucky, Clinton came close to replicating her blowout victory in West Virginia a week earlier, and in doing so she once again exposed Obama's weakness among working-class white voters in that region of the country. According to a survey of Oregon voters, however, Obama was winning the white vote.

A total of 103 pledged delegates were at stake in yesterday's primaries. Under current rules, there are 3,253 pledged delegates, which means Obama needs 1,627 to claim a majority. Current rules, which do not include delegates from Michigan or Florida, require the nominee to win at least 2,026 delegates -- pledged and superdelegates.

Both Obama and Clinton opened their speeches last night by paying tribute to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who found out that he has a malignant brain tumor, praising him as a fighter and a conscience of the Democratic Party.

Obama also praised Clinton as a formidable rival who has never stopped fighting for the American people. "No matter how this primary ends," he said, "Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age."

But with his campaign eager to pivot to the fall election, Obama's real focus was on McCain, whom he described as a virtual clone of President Bush on the Iraq war and economic policy and as someone out of touch with the country's mood.

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