Obama Clinches Nomination, Capping Historic, Bitter Contest
First African-American To Lead a Major Party Ticket; Clinton Refuses to Concede
By JACKIE CALMES
June 4, 2008 11:07 a.m.
The Democratic presidential nomination his, Barack Obama reached out Wednesday to mend fences with his defeated rival as Republican opponent John McCain tried to frame the fall campaign on his own terms. “I think he has exercised very bad judgment on national security issues and others,” Sen. McCain said.
Hillary Clinton was angling to become Sen. Obama’s running mate and her aides ramped up the speculation on that matter Wednesday. “I think a lot of her supporters would like to see her on the ticket,” Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said. But Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs cautioned “there is no deal in the works.”
Sen. Obama captured enough convention delegates Tuesday to make a historic claim to the Democratic presidential nomination, the first African-American to earn a major party’s nod.
The first-term Illinois senator defeated what had once been the most powerful machine in the party. Sen. Clinton, the former first lady who sought to be history’s first female nominee, saluted him. But she didn’t concede.
Sen. Clinton’s refusal to drop out immediately came after her surprise win in South Dakota’s primary Tuesday. That victory didn’t change the dynamics of the race. But it underscored some of Sen. Obama’s weaknesses, which were on display over the final month of the long campaign, when he suffered a string of landslide losses to his challenger.
Still, the nomination marked a remarkable accomplishment for the son of a Kenyan immigrant who spent part of his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia.
“Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America,” Sen. Obama told an estimated 32,000 people gathered in St. Paul, Minn., late Tuesday.
The venue symbolized his start of the general-election campaign against the likely Republican nominee, Sen. McCain: In September, Republicans hold their presidential convention in the same city. And Sen. Obama’s huge audience, compared with Sen. McCain’s less than 1,000 supporters for his speech Tuesday night in New Orleans, dramatizes the Democrats’ big edge in voter excitement, evident all year in record turnout for the party’s primaries and caucuses.
Sen. McCain, his own nomination locked up months ago, defined the distinction he will draw with the less-experienced 46-year-old Sen. Obama, who is 25 years his junior: “Both Sen. Obama and I promise we will end Washington’s stagnant, unproductive partisanship,” he said. “But one of us has a record of working to do that, and one of us doesn’t.”
Sen. Obama, in turn, hailed his Republican rival’s military service, and “many accomplishments — even if he chooses to deny mine. My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign” — policies that the Illinois senator said would amount to four more years of the unpopular President Bush.
The day’s events that set up what will be their five-month contest included a stream of Obama endorsements from local and state party leaders — the superdelegates — who can vote their choice at Democrats’ August convention in Denver. Those were timed for the end of Democrats’ 54 primaries and caucuses in the states and U.S. territories, in which the “pledged” delegates were won. Tuesday’s Montana and South Dakota primaries were the final contests.
It was the longest nomination race ever. Early returns were in keeping with the closeness of the Obama-Clinton race — a split decision, with Sen. Obama winning in Montana Tuesday and Sen. Clinton in South Dakota.
Once the polls closed Tuesday night, the Obama campaign released the names of 26.5 superdelegates — those from Michigan and Florida get half-votes, in punishment for holding their primaries too early. With others that came in through the day, and Sen. Obama’s share of Montana’s and South Dakota’s 31 pledged delegates, he could claim the 2,118-delegate majority needed for nomination.
Sen. Obama started Tuesday roughly 40 delegates shy of the number needed. But he exceeded that with the night’s final group endorsement from party leaders. In addition, 10 delegates pledged to former candidate and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards switched to him, besides the pledged delegates he’d get from Tuesday’s primaries.
Both campaigns in recent days have discouraged speculation about an Obama-Clinton ticket, particularly given the sometimes bitter exchanges between the two on the campaign trail. But Sen. Clinton left the door open to a match in a conference call with fellow members of Congress from New York, when one of them argued that she was needed on the ticket to help Democrats win in November.
According to the lawmakers, Sen. Clinton told them she wouldn’t definitively end her 17-month campaign despite Sen. Obama’s delegate lead. This will give her more leverage in talks with the Illinois senator. “I’m open to it,” the Associated Press reported her telling Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who told Sen. Clinton her presence on the ticket would help Sen. Obama win the votes of women and Hispanics. Senior advisers said afterward that Sen. Clinton was merely indicating her commitment to do whatever she can to help Democrats win this fall.
And Sen. Clinton brushed aside calls for her to end her campaign last night, telling a crowd of cheering supporters in New York: “I will be making no decisions tonight.” That raised the prospects of days of wrangling and negotiating.
That the superdelegates would help Sen. Obama seal the nomination marked yet another twist to the tumultuous race. Sen. Clinton began the year with a big edge among superdelegates who’d endorsed a candidate, reflecting hers and her husband’s longtime leadership of the Democratic Party. Critics of the superdelegate system warned that these party leaders could overturn voters’ narrow decision for Sen. Obama. Instead, as he began winning contests in January, superdelegates followed the lead of the voters in the states.
Polls hadn’t yet opened Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota when the Obama campaign started announcing superdelegate endorsements. Among the three who pledged support early in the morning was Rep. James Clyburn. The South Carolinian, a civil-rights-era leader and the House’s senior African-American, described himself recently as a former “big-time” supporter of Bill Clinton. But he became at odds with the former president over what many Democrats considered Mr. Clinton’s racially charged statements on the campaign trail.
More Senate colleagues were poised to declare their support for Sen. Obama Wednesday. He already had support from a majority of his and Sen. Clinton’s fellow senators, and both Montana senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, endorsed him last night, along with Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the state’s party chairman.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada met with other uncommitted senators to strategize about the race’s end. He, along with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, continued to argue that uncommitted superdelegates should take sides as soon as the nominating contests were over. The Democratic leadership is keen to wrap up the long and at times bitter campaign so the party can focus on battling the Republicans, both to recapture the White House and to add to their majorities in the House and Senate.
Sen. Clinton, long the Democrats’ front-runner and the early favorite, spent Tuesday at home in Chappaqua, N.Y., with her husband, Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, working on her final speech. All three had campaigned extensively this week in South Dakota and Puerto Rico. Sen. Clinton won the Puerto Rico primary overwhelmingly on Sunday, and in her victory speech before jubilant supporters, she continued to argue — in remarks specifically meant for superdelegates — that she would be the more electable nominee in November, given the extent of her support among women, white men, older voters and blue-collar workers.
Many superdelegates, whose votes proved decisive, weren’t buying it. Mr. Clyburn, in his statement, said Sen. Obama “has created levels of energy and excitement that I have not witnessed since the 1960s,” especially among younger voters. “I believe he is the most electable candidate that Democrats can offer. He will be able to dramatically change the electoral map for Democrats which will in turn expand our majorities here in Congress, and help elect more Democrats at the state and local levels.”
Other Democratic politicians have said for months that even if Sen. Obama doesn’t win in November — and some of these politicians believe he can’t because of his race — he would be better at the top of the party’s ticket because he will draw young voters, African-Americans, and other new Democrats and independents to the polls in November, thus giving a boost to many Democratic congressional campaigns. They add that he would also be less divisive than Sen. Clinton, and therefore less likely to draw out Republicans to vote against a Democratic ticket.
In her speech Tuesday in New York City, Sen. Clinton again boasted of her accomplishments in winning big states and nearly 18 million votes, weeks after many Democrats were calling for her to give up. “I’m proud that we stayed the course and stood our ground,” she said.
But she promised to work for party unity and victory in November and paid tribute to Sen. Obama. He “has inspired so many Americans to care about politics — and empowered so many more to get involved,” she said. “It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him, just as it is an honor to call him my friend.”
Her campaign advisers sought to downplay talk of an Obama-Clinton ticket, saying she was simply agreeing with supporters that she would do anything to help the ticket. In her speech, Sen. Clinton alluded to the speculation — “a lot of people are asking, ‘What does Hillary want?’ ” The answer, she said, is to end the Iraq war, fix economy, and provide universal health care.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121258746079045001.html?mod=hpp_us_whats_news, June 4, 2008