Obama says contest makes him stronger

On his way here for another election night vigil, Barack Obama said he's ready to fight for votes in Wyoming and Mississippi and relishes the prospect of a campaign that will "just make us stronger."

He telephoned John McCain to congratulate him on locking up the Republican presidential nomination. Obama told supporters here that he's looking forward to a fall campaign in which he and McCain will "offer two very different visions" to the nation.

Obama offered a game "Thank you, Texas!" to the crowd, well before the Associated Press declared Hillary Rodham Clinton the winner here. Because of the complicated formula for allocating Democratic delegates in Texas, it's possible Obama could still win the delegate race without the popular vote.

Obama won the Vermont primary, his 12th win since the Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5. But Clinton's victory in Ohio and her strong performance in Texas left Obama and his aides trying to manage expectations.

"We started at 20 points behind in Texas and Ohio, and we closed the gap," Obama told reporters on his campaign plane, as he flew here hours before the polls closed. "Just remember where we are and where we have been."

Obama acknowledged that Clinton's pointed campaign against him — raising doubts about his foreign policy credentials, his views on the NAFTA trade deal and his relationship with a Chicago businessman now on trial for corruption — may have hurt him.

"If you're being attacked every day, it creates a sense of turbulence in the minds of people," Obama said. He vowed he would not launch negative attacks against her.

"We do things differently. It's worked for us so far," he said. "I'm not going to do things that I'm not comfortable in doing."

Obama and his campaign presented an unruffled front. "He's been very cool, calm and collected this whole year, most of which he's been down in the polls," said his wife, Michelle.

Still, there were tell-tale signs of the strain. Several times while talking to reporters, Obama referred to his rival in the plural: "We are running against very determined and tough opponents." It was a reference to former president Bill Clinton, who attacked him during the South Carolina primary.

Later in the night, Obama campaign lawyer Bob Bauer crashed a conference call that Clinton aides were holding with reporters.

Bauer and Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson bickered angrily over campaign tactics. The squabble ended with Wolfson threatening to retaliate on a future Obama campaign press call.

Obama said he plans to head soon to Wyoming, where voters will go to the polls Saturday. He said he's convinced a prolonged battle won't damage the Democratic nominee's chances against McCain. "It's good preparation. It's like training camp," he said.

Yet he also suggested it might be time for party elders to begin pushing for an end to the closest nomination fight in 20 years. "You heard Bill Richardson talk on Sunday about how — for him and, I think, others — the need to bring this to a close is going to be important," he said.

Richardson, the New Mexico governor and a former presidential candidate, said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation that the nomination should go to the candidate with the most delegates.

Obama held his election night rally in the city that is home to the Alamo, a monument to the legendary last stand that an outnumbered band of Texas revolutionaries made here against the Mexican army.

Like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis from the Alamo, Obama thinks he's up against a "tenacious" foe. Unlike them, he insists he doesn't expect to lose.

Obama's decision to wait for election returns here was a sign of his effort to broaden his political base. Clinton won California in part on her ability to outperform Obama among Hispanic voters.

Obama cut into her share of those voters in Virginia last month and challenged her for the Hispanic vote here.

Hispanics make up about 36% of the Texas population and 25% of the state's eligible voters. One-third of the state's Hispanic voters are ages 18-29, a group that has voted strongly for Obama.

Obama began his day with a surprise visit to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo going after rural voters, another group that's usually difficult for Democrats. He donned a John Deere baseball cap while inspecting tractors. "I'm sort of a city slicker," he confessed.