Clinton Wins Big in Kentucky as Obama Looks Toward General Election

With win in Oregon Obama clinches majority of pledged delegates.

ByABC News
May 20, 2008, 3:36 PM

May 20, 2008— -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., picked up a double-digit win in Kentucky, but her victory could not stop Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., from winning in Oregon and capturing the majority of pledged delegates, passing a symbolic milestone on the road to the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton clobbered Obama in Kentucky, capturing 65 percent of the vote to his 30 percent. But in Oregon, Obama was chalking up his own impressive win, leading Clinton 58 percent to 42 percent.

Obama, celebrating in Iowa, stopped short of declaring outright victory, a move that would have angered Clinton and her supporters -- backing that he will need in November.

"We have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States," he declared.

Clinton, reveling in her Kentucky romp, made clear that she intends to fight on.

"I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be," she told a cheering throng of Clinton supporters in Louisville.

Claiming that neither she nor Obama will reach the magic number needed for the party's nomination when the primaries end June 3, Clinton declared, "Our party will have a tough choice to make."

Clinton's determination has come at a high cost. Her campaign debt has grown to more than $20 million, and the Los Angeles Times estimated in today's editions that the Clinton campaign is now more than $30 million.

In primaries past, the candidates worked to rack up states, hoping to see a check mark beside their name, or a distinct shade of blue in each state on a U.S. map that indicated which of them had received the most votes. But the game has changed.

Clinton and Obama fought for every one of the 103 pledged delegates up for grabs Tuesday, 51 in Kentucky and 52 in Oregon, hoping to use each of those delegates to build a case for his or her being the nominee.

"Tonight, we've achieved an important victory. It is not just Kentucky bluegrass that is music to my ears. It is the sound of your overwhelming vote of confidence even in the face of some pretty tough odds," Clinton told her Kentucky supporters.

Obama spoke to supporters in Iowa, the state where his primary campaign begun and where symbolically, it seemed, he was kicking off his national campaign.

"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," he told a crowd in Des Moines. "The skeptics predicted we wouldn't get very far. The cynics dismissed us as a lot of hype and a little too much hope. And by the fall, the pundits in Washington had all but counted us out."

"But the people of Iowa," he said, "had a different idea."

Clinton told supporters that it was not pledged delegates, but the popular vote that would sway the votes of the superdelegates needed by both candidates to sew up the nomination.

"Some have said your votes didn't matter, that this campaign was over, that allowing everyone to vote and every vote to count would somehow be a mistake. But that didn't stop you. You've never given up on me because you know I'll never give up on you."

She said that 17 million people had voted for her, more than for any Democratic nominee in history, because her supporters know that the race is about "whether or not we will have a president who will rebuild the economy, end the war in Iraq, restore our leadership in the world and stand up for you every single day."

She insisted that the party and the superdelegates count the votes of residents in Florida and Michigan, which had their delegates revoked, per party rules, when they moved their primaries up earlier in the year.

Clinton led Obama in the polls in Kentucky for weeks and exit poll data suggests she was able to mobilize her base of white working-class voters and women.

"As in West Virginia last week, sizable numbers in Kentucky say they'd be dissatisfied with Obama as the nominee, think he isn't honest, question whether he shares their values and think that, at least to some extent, he shares the views of his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright," said ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer.

Obama needed just 18 pledged delegates -- those assigned from the outcomes of state primaries and caucuses -- to give him a majority of pledged delegates, the metric that he says superdelegates should most consider when deciding which of the Democratic rivals to support.

Obama surpassed that mark as a result of Tuesday's contests, but has said that he will not declare victory over Clinton until the remaining primaries conclude in June.

Despite capturing the majority of pledged delegates, Obama did not declare victory in Iowa, opting instead to praise rather than alienate Clinton.

"The road here has been long, and that is partly because we've traveled it with one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for this office. In her 35 years of public service, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has never given up on her fight for the American people, and tonight I congratulate her on her victory in Kentucky. We have had our disagreements during this campaign, but we all admire her courage, her commitment and her perseverance," Obama said.

Heaping praise on his rival, Obama added, "Sen. Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age. And for that we are grateful to her."

Receiving the majority of pledged delegates is a milestone for Obama, and represents, for many observers, the unofficial tipping point of the race. But to officially be the Democratic nominee, he needs to pick up another 112 delegates -- those granted by individual party leaders called superdelegates -- to reach the magic number of 2,026.

Clinton and Obama are each pushing to get the remaining superdelegates. Obama hopes that the pledged-delegate milestone will convince the supers to unite behind him now, sewing up an already exhausting race.

While Obama is reluctant to declare victory before the supers are counted, publicly treating Clinton as a respected contender, members of his camp are rallying to unite the party behind him in order to begin the general campaign against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"We still have a number of contests, including Montana, before we're able to secure the nomination," Obama said Monday in Billings, Mont., which will hold its primary on June 3. "Sen. Clinton has run a magnificent race, and she is still working hard, as I am, for all these last primary contests."