Obama Clinches Democratic Nomination

Democratic superdelegates push Obama to victory before final primary contests.


June 3, 2008 — -- Sen. Barack Obama achieved the 2,118 needed to clinch the Democratic nomination for president last night and made history by becoming the first African American to win a major party's presidential nomination.

Obama, D-Ill., locked up one of the longest and most closely fought Democratic nomination fights in recent history.

"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. Because of you, tonight I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States," Obama told 30,000 thrilled supporters at an arena in St. Paul, Minn.

"This is our time. This is our moment," he said.

He graciously praised Cllinton, despite the sometimes bitter exchanges the two had during the campaign.

"Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign, not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight," Obama said.

"Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete" with her, he said.

The presumptive Democratic nominee locked up the nomination even before the votes were counted in the party's final two primaries in South Dakota and Montana last night.

Obama went on to easily win Montana last night by a margin of 57 percent to Sent. Hillary Clinton's 42 percent. But Clinton, D-NY, snatched one last upset victory in South Dakota, with a 55-44 percent win.

Nevertheless, Obama picked up enough delegates from those states to pad his margin of victory and saw additional superdelegates rally to his side.

Later, the candidates played some phone tag, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. A little after 11 pm, Obama left Clinton a message on an aide's cell phone, congratulating Clinton on her South Dakota win and asking that she return the call.

ABC's Eloise Harper reports that some time later, Clinton returned Obama's call. The two spoke very briefly and then the cell phone call dropped out. Clinton called him back and got his voice mail.

The two exchanged a couple more messages and finally spoke just after midnight. Obama reiterated his invitation from a conversation earlier in the week when he suggested that the two schedule a meeting. Clinton agreed, but no specific plans were made for a time or place for such a meeting.

For her part, Clinton refused to concede the race tonight.

"This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight," she told supporters in New York.

"In the coming days, I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way," she said as supporters chanted "Denver, Denver!" pointing to the party's convention in August.

Clinton's campaign has indicated her willingness to challenge a Democratic Party ruling on Michigan and Florida's disputed delegates all the way to the Denver convention -- a drastic option that would delay the party uniting behind Obama.

However early Wednesday Democratic leaders signaled their unwillingness to go without a nominee before the convention.

"We have come to the end of an exciting primary and caucus process –- the voters have spoken ... Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election," read a joint statement released by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DNC Chair Gov. Howard Dean, and Democratic Governors Association Chair Gov. Joe Manchin. The Democratic party leaders urged all remaining uncommitted superdelegates to make their decision known by this Friday.

However, Clinton may be trying to leverage her support for a place on the ticket as Obama's running mate.

Speaking on a conference call to fellow New York lawmakers earlier today, Clinton said she is "open" to being Obama's vice presidential candidate if he asks, a source on the call told ABC News' Rick Klein.

Late tonight, Lanny Davis, a long-time friend of Clinton's, circulated a petition asking Obama to choose Clinton as his running mate.

The win is a huge accomplishment for Obama, 46, a first-term U.S. senator, who would be among the youngest presidents in U.S. history if he wins the White House.

With a popular campaign message of hope and change, he attracted huge crowds, celebrity endorsements, and record-breaking campaign contributions. His candidacy also inspired a record turnout by black voters, and enjoyed wide support from independents, liberals, young voters, and high-income Democrats.

Early on, Obama cast his campaign as a rejection of old-style Washington politics, and painted Clinton as an incumbent.

Standing on the same stage where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will accept the Republican Party's presidential nomination in September, Obama quickly pivoted to the general election, taking a swipe at his Republican opponent.

"John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy -- cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota -- he'd understand the kind of change that people are looking for," Obama said.

"Change is a foreign policy that doesn't begin and end with a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged," Obama said. "It's time to refocus our efforts on al Qaeda's leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century -- terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That's what change is."

Launching the general election fight full-throttle, McCain fired a shot at Obama in a nationally televised speech made before Obama had declared victory.

"I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought into so many failed ideas," McCain, 71, told supporters Tuesday night in Kenner, La.

"You will hear from my opponent's campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release, that I'm running for President Bush's third term," McCain said. "Why does Senator Obama believe it's so important to repeat that idea over and over again? Because he knows it's very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false.

"Both Senator Obama and I promise we will end Washington's stagnant, unproductive partisanship," McCain said. "But he hasn't been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters, to bring real change to Washington. I have."

Calling Clinton "my friend," McCain heaped praise on the former first lady, suggesting "pundits" and "Democratic "Party elders" unfairly crowned Obama the Democratic nominee.

"The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received," McCain said. "As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach."

As the last day of a grueling, five-month Democratic primary battle fight came to a close, Clinton watched as superdelegates flocked to her opponent and told fellow New York lawmakers that she is open to being Obama's vice presidential candidate if he asks.

A year ago, the former first lady led every Democratic presidential candidate in the polls and was considered the party front-runner with big-money Democratic donors, the support of the Democratic establishment, and the backing of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

But today, Clinton, trailing Obama in delegates, and with her campaign deeply in debt, spent much of the afternoon calling major donors and supporters from her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., in a last-ditch effort to gauge her support.

With only 31 pledged delegates at stake in Tuesday's final primary contests in Montana and South Dakota, the Obama campaign pressed uncommitted superdelegates Tuesday to announce their support before the polls closed, to allow him to emerge as the party's nominee without the appearance of it all coming down to the superdelegates.

He saw an avalanche of superdelegates come his way in the last two days before the final primary contests, including former President Jimmy Carter, and renowned civil-rights leader and House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.D.

Of the 796 Democratic superdelegates -- party officials, members of Congress and state party leaders free to back any candidate -- less than 200 were still waiting to declare their support for either candidate when the day began.

"We've known for the last couple of months that even though Obama emerged as the front-runner, he was not going to be able to secure the nomination without the support of superdelegates," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Clinton faced pressure to drop out of the race, but refused to leave until the last primary states voted.

This afternoon, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, told reporters that he encouraged uncommitted superdelegates in the Senate to hold off on endorsing immediately and to wait for the results of tonight's primaries.

"Sen. Clinton needs to be left alone to get through the primary process and let it run its course," Reid said.

While their phones have been burning up for months with calls from the candidates and former President Bill Clinton, many superdelegates were uncomfortable with their roles as potential kingmakers.

"For senators, you've got a race here between two of their colleagues, and at least one of them is coming back to the Senate, so I think their reluctance to pick a side is to maintain good relations," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

Clyburn, on Tuesday, urged fellow superdelegates to get off the fence.

"Sen. Obama brings a new vision for our future and new voters to our cause. He has created levels of energy and excitement that I have not witnessed since the 1960s," read Clyburn's Tuesday statement.

Many prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have urged fellow Democrats to vote the way their state does.

The role of superdelegates may be given more scrutiny after the grueling, neck-and-neck primary battle between Obama and Clinton.

The Democratic Party decided more than three decades ago that party leaders and former Democratic politicians should become the ultimate deciders in a tight race.

After the insurgent outsider campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter won the Democratic Party nominations in 1972 and 1976, many party officials felt the need to have a greater role in the nominating process.

Apart from convincing big numbers of undecided superdelegates to back her presidential bid, the only option left to Clinton is to push her fight to the Democratic convention in late August, a move opposed by party leaders eager to stop the infighting and start fighting against McCain.

With her considerable support from voters, Clinton may also be trying to leverage herself to negotiate with Obama on various matters, including a potential spot on the ticket as the vice presidential candidate or influence Obama on policy issues, like health care.

Asked Tuesday by a South Dakota radio station about a potential vice presidential choice, Obama said, of Clinton, "She's run a magnificent race ... I'm sure that we will have ample time to sit down and talk about bringing the party together and make sure that we are focused on November."

Entering the general election with a Republican president with record-low approval ratings and polls suggesting over 80 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, Obama has a good shot at the White House.

However, Obama emerges bruised from a bitter Democratic primary battle, and faces the daunting challenge uniting the party.

The Democratic nomination fight exposed Obama's challenges in gaining support from white, blue-collar voters, Hispanics, women, and older voters who supported Clinton's candidacy in huge numbers.

With reporting by ABC News' David Wright, Jake Tapper, Karen Travers, Rick Klein, Kate Snow, Sunlen Miller, Karin Weinberg, Eloise Harper and James Gerber.

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