Barack Obama effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, based on an Associated Press tally of convention delegates, becoming the first black candidate ever to lead his party into a fall campaign for the White House.
Campaigning on an insistent call for change, Obama outlasted former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a historic race that sparked record turnout in primary after primary, yet exposed deep racial divisions within the party.
And in a new turn of events, Clinton told congressional colleagues she would be open to becoming Obama's vice presidential nominee, saying she would consider it if it would help Democrats win the White House.
Clinton made the comment on a conference call with other New York lawmakers Tuesday, according a participant on the call who spoke to AP.
The senator's remarks came in response to a question from Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez who said she believed the best way for Obama to win over key voting blocs, including Hispanics, would be for him to choose Clinton as his running mate.
"I am open to it," Clinton replied, if it would help the party's prospects in November.
The AP tally showing Obama had won the delegate race was based on public commitments from delegates as well as more than a dozen private commitments.
It also included a minimum number of delegates Obama was guaranteed even if he lost the final two primaries in South Dakota and Montana later in the day.
The tally comes after Clinton officials strongly denied reports earlier Tuesday that their candidate was about to concede.
Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign chairman, told CNN that an earlier AP report of an imminent concession was "100% reporting incorrectly."
"I don't know who the officials are, but anyone can be an official in this world. I can unequivocally say as chairman of this campaign that until someone has the numbers this nomination fight continues on," he said."The race goes on," he added.
The officials said Clinton will pledge to continue to speak out on issues like health care.
Most campaign staff will be let go and will be paid through June 15, said the officials.
The advisers said Clinton has made a strategic decision to not formally end her campaign, giving her leverage to negotiate with Obama on various matters including a possible vice presidential nomination for her.
She also wants to press him on issues he should focus on in the fall, such as health care.
Former President Carter said he'll endorse Obama after the polls close on the final primaries Tuesday night in Montana and South Dakota.
Carter said "the fact is the Obama people already know they have my vote when the polls close tonight." Carter, a superdelegate, has remained officially neutral in the race but has offered high praise to Obama.
And House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a superdelegate who endorsed Obama Monday, said in a conference call Tuesday that other delegates are lining up to support Obama.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., is expected to endorse Obama Tuesday along with Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clyburn said.
He also said Tom Moore, a South Carolina delegate pledged to John Edwards, and Ralph Dawson, another delegate from the state, both will endorse Obama Tuesday.