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Back in Iowa, Obama Celebrates the Past And Eyes the Future

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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

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

DES MOINES, May 20 -- Sen. Barack Obama returned Tuesday night to where his presidential candidacy first took off, while his campaign began to shift its focus from the Democratic primary fight to the general election.

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Speaking at a downtown rally, Obama paid tribute to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) as "one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for this office," and took care not to assert that his battle against her is over. "You have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States," he said. "It is good to be back in Iowa."

But for the most part, he ignored his lopsided loss to her in Kentucky, and talked instead about Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee. "This year's Republican primary was a contest to see which candidate could out-Bush the other, and that is the contest John McCain won," Obama said.

The campaign chose to return to Iowa to commemorate Obama's first and most important victory, in the state's caucuses in January, on the night that he secured a majority of pledged delegates -- a symbolic benchmark that represents its view that he has secured a virtual lock on the nomination.

"We knew this was likely to be the night," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief political adviser. "What better place to mark it than the place it all began?"

At Obama's Chicago headquarters, senior staff members now spend their time planning how to retool the campaign for the contest against McCain, expanding such key departments as field, research, policy and communications. They speculate about potential vice presidential contenders, although that process has not yet started. And they debate how Obama will spend June and July, with a foreign trip one possibility, along with return trips to such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan.

Campaign officials have also drawn up plans to take over the Democratic National Committee -- the traditional prerogative of the party's presidential nominee -- so that coordinated general-election efforts can begin. The campaign is likely to dispatch Paul Tewes -- who ran Obama's Iowa operation and led efforts in other key states, including Pennsylvania -- to the committee, according to campaign sources.

The core of Obama's staff has worked together for 18 months now, and some fretted about the cultural changes that could come with an infusion of outsiders, who will be dispatched to individual states and regions, and also brought aboard in Chicago. But the landscape already looks different.

Such stalwart Clinton supporters as Roger Altman, the former deputy Treasury secretary, and former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle have floated offers of assistance, Obama campaign sources said. That's a sign that the party is closing ranks, despite Clinton's continued presence in the race.

For Obama, Iowa was a win-or-perish state from the beginning. He committed more time to the caucuses than to any other contest, spending much of 2007 wooing an exclusive club of notoriously fickle party insiders who constitute most caucusgoers.

The senator from Illinois went on to win 31 contests, but none carried the weight of Iowa. Beating Clinton and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) altered the course of the race by establishing Obama as her chief rival -- the only candidate with the message, organizational muscle and financial resources to challenge her front-runner status.

"Fifteen months ago, in the depths of winter, it was in this great state where we took the first steps of an unlikely journey to change America," Obama told the crowd in Des Moines.


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