WASHINGTON — Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, becoming the first black candidate to lead a major party into a campaign for the White House.
Obama held a victory celebration in St. Paul, Minn., after he outlasted rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in a historic campaign that sparked record turnouts in primary after primary.
Wasting little time, Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona sought to claim the mantle of change in a country tired of the status quo.
“It’s not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year,” Obama said.
“It’s not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs. ... And it’s not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave young men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians.”
Obama campaigned on a message of hope and change. Clinton touted that she was the candidate of experience, ready, she said, to serve in the Oval Office from Day One.
There were relatively few policy differences and a fair share of controversies as race, religion and gender became political fault lines as the campaigns moved from coast to coast. After Obama’s strong Super Tuesday showing, he became the proverbial front-runner as Clinton tried to play catch-up in states such as Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia, and her campaign stressed the importance of the popular vote instead of delegates.
Now, with the last primaries completed, some final questions can be answered.
Q Is the race really over?
A Obama sealed his victory based on primary elections, state Democratic caucuses and delegates’ public declarations, as well as support from superdelegates who privately confirmed their intentions. By mid-evening Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that Obama had secured 2,128 delegates, 10 more than the necessary 2,118 required, as polls prepared to close in Montana and South Dakota.
Q Is Sen. Hillary Clinton dropping out of the race?
A Clinton delivered an address Tuesday night conceding that Obama had reached the necessary delegate count, but told her supporters on the final night of the primary season that she has not formally bowed out. Clinton pledged to continue to speak out on issues such as health care and the economy. But for all intents and purposes, two senior officials said earlier Tuesday, her campaign is over.
Q So what about speculation over whether Clinton will become Obama’s running mate?
A While Obama’s victory had been widely assumed for weeks, Clinton’s declaration of interest in becoming his ticketmate was wholly unexpected. Clinton told colleagues Tuesday that she would consider joining Barack Obama as his running mate. In fact, she is withholding formal departure to use her remaining leverage to press for a spot on the ticket.
She said she was willing to become the vice presidential nominee if it would help the Democrats win the White House, according to one participant of a conference call with other New York lawmakers. Clinton told her fellow lawmakers that she knew the delegate math was not in her favor but that she wanted to take time to determine how to leave the race in a way that would help the party. Aides to Obama said he and Clinton had not spoken about the prospect of her joining the ticket.
Q What are the superdelegates doing?
A On Tuesday, another 18 superdelegates confirmed their intention to support Obama’s bid for the White House. One of those delegates came from Missouri. State Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal declared that she had a hard time choosing between Clinton and Obama but decided that Obama’s ability to engage and inspire the voters was key.
The Illinois senator now has six of Missouri’s 16 superdelegates, while Clinton has five. Five others, including Attorney General Jay Nixon and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, are remaining mum on their choice.
Q After a fractious nomination process, will the Democratic Party be able to come together by November?
A Both Obama and Clinton appear to be striking a conciliatory tone as the nominating process comes to a close. On Monday, Obama said he has asked Clinton for a meeting on her terms “once the dust” settles from the race. While campaigning in Michigan, he said, “Sen. Clinton has run an outstanding race, she is an outstanding public servant, and she and I will be working together in November.”
Meanwhile, Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said Sen. Clinton “will congratulate him and call him the nominee.” Clinton officials also said they would not contest the seating of Michigan delegates at the convention in Denver this August.