Obama Claims Nomination

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks before thousands of supporters in St. Paul, Minn., on Tuesday, as he earned enough delegates to claim his party's nomination. Obama praised his democratic challengers, especially Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Video by AP
By Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

With a split decision in the final two primaries and a flurry of superdelegate endorsements, Sen. Barack Obama sealed the Democratic presidential nomination last night after a grueling and history-making campaign against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that will make him the first African American to head a major-party ticket.

Before a chanting and cheering audience in St. Paul, Minn., the first-term senator from Illinois savored what once seemed an unlikely outcome to the Democratic race with a nod to the marathon that was ending and to what will be another hard-fought battle, against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

"Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another -- a journey that will bring a new and better day to America," he said, as the emotion of the moment showed on his face. "Because of you, tonight I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America."

Obama's success marked a major milestone for the nation -- a sign of the racial progress that has taken place during the span of the senator's lifetime. But the nomination battle also revealed a racial schism within the Democratic Party, and potential resistance to a black candidate in some parts of the country that will play out in the general-election campaign.

Obama's victory was notable not simply for its historic importance but also because it marked a rejection, albeit by the narrowest of margins, of a candidate who represented the most powerful family in Democratic politics. Clinton's defeat seemed almost inconceivable a year ago as the race was beginning to unfold, but Obama and his advisers proved equal to the challenge.

In the last two primaries, Obama won Montana but lost to Clinton in South Dakota, a continuation of the seesaw battle the two waged from the first caucuses in Iowa in January through more than 50 other contests. They fought the most closely contested Democratic nomination battle in the modern era and split the party into two almost equal coalitions.

But with the help of superdelegates who declared their allegiance to Obama throughout the day, he easily crossed the threshold of 2,118 delegates needed to secure the nomination around the time polls had closed in Montana and South Dakota, closing off the last slender hope Clinton had to take away the nomination.

During his speech, Obama offered praise to his rival. "She has made history not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she is a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight," he said.

Obama still faces a sizable job of uniting his party, and his uneven performance during the final months of the nomination battle could make Clinton's supporters more difficult to win over quickly. Clinton has pledged to help unify the part, but last night she signaled that she will do so on her own timetable.

Clinton, who waged a fierce campaign to become the first woman nominated for the presidency, spoke shortly before Obama at a rally in New York. Amid questions about when or whether she would quit the race, she declared: "This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight."

Earlier in the day, she opened the door to considering to be Obama's vice presidential running mate, should he make the offer, leading to speculation about what her goals will be.

"You know, I understand that that a lot of people are asking, 'What does Hillary want? What does she want?' " she said. She then ticked off a list that included ending the war in Iraq, improving the economy and providing universal health care. But in a clear statement aimed at Obama, she added: "I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible."

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