Obama Clinches Nomination; Clinton Plots Next Step

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination will go down in the history books. Barack Obama added another chapter Tuesday by securing enough delegates to claim the party's presidential nomination. Still, Hillary Clinton hasn't conceded defeat.

Host Renee Montagne talks with NPR's Don Gonyea, who has been covering Obama, and NPR's David Greene, who has followed Clinton.

Gonyea recounts the scene at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., where Obama gave a speech Tuesday night. The event had a different feel from Obama's usual big campaign events, he says. "It had that extra bit of energy, we had that extra dose of history mixed in — the first ever African-American claiming such a prize. He clearly took a moment to reflect."

Obama's thank-you to his grandmother in Hawaii, who helped raise him, was an emotional moment for the senator and for the crowd, Gonyea says.

Meantime, a thousand miles away at Baruch College in New York City, Greene says, there was a real sense of closure and of reality setting in among Clinton supporters. "People were just trying to find something to smile and cheer about," he says.

But is Clinton out of the race or not?

"She's not as of now," Greene says. "And there was no mention last night of a magic number, not even a recognition that Barack Obama had crossed some sort of threshold, and it gave the night this feeling of almost an alternate universe."

While headlines were coming out saying Obama is ready to go up against McCain in a general election, Clinton's campaign was putting out new schedules, "going through all the motions that you would expect from a campaign that's just going into another day." Greene says he's hearing that Clinton is going to reach out to some of the superdelegates and try to keep making her case.

"In the coming days," Clinton said in her speech Tuesday night, "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 didn't address the vice presidency in that speech, but she has said she'd be open to an Obama-Clinton ticket if it would help unite the party — "but that's assuming that Obama would even make such an offer," Greene says.

The Obama camp was talking about that, too, Gonyea says. The campaign said there had been no talks with Clinton, and "there's no long list, there's not a short list at this point, as to who Sen. Obama will consider" for the vice presidency.

Obama did go after presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in his speech Tuesday night, showing that he's ready to put the primaries behind him and join the fall fight.

Reflecting on the past five months of primary contests, Gonyea says he was impressed by the huge crowds that Obama drew and Obama's March speech on race. As for Greene, after witnessing the passion of Clinton's supporters at campaign events, he says, "it's going to be hard for some people to say goodbye" if she isn't going to be on the fall ticket.

Obama Claims Nomination, Making History

Analysis

NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving says Hillary Clinton's supporters are now likely to look for scapegoats to explain her loss. Who Did This to Hillary? he asks in his column, "Watching Washington."

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton at Baruch College in New York. i i

hide captionNew York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the crowd at her primary night event at Baruch College in New York, June 3, 2008.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton at Baruch College in New York.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the crowd at her primary night event at Baruch College in New York, June 3, 2008.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama secures enough delegates to win the Democratic Party's nomination. i i

hide captionObama stands on stage with his wife, Michelle, at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul. He made history by capturing the Democratic presidential nomination as the first black candidate.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama secures enough delegates to win the Democratic Party's nomination.

Obama stands on stage with his wife, Michelle, at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul. He made history by capturing the Democratic presidential nomination as the first black candidate.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton gets a hug from her husband. i i

hide captionHillary Clinton gets a hug from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, during her speech at Baruch College.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton gets a hug from her husband.

Hillary Clinton gets a hug from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, during her speech at Baruch College.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters. i i

hide captionObama greets supporters at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters.

Obama greets supporters at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Barack Obama stood before a cheering crowd in a Minnesota convention hall Tuesday night, declaring himself the Democratic presidential nominee. His speech marked the end to what has been, at times, a bruising five-month-long campaign that history will remember as resulting in the first African-American to win a major party's nomination.

Obama called it "a defining moment for our nation."

A few hours earlier, his main rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, refused to acknowledge Obama's clinching of the nomination during a speech to a boisterous crowd at Baruch College in New York City. Clinton said she was not ready to make any decisions about her campaign's future. At the same time, the New York senator said she was "committed to unifying our party."

Obama secured more than the 2,118 delegates needed to win the Democratic Party's nomination after two final primaries on Tuesday — in South Dakota and Montana — which resulted in a split decision. Clinton won South Dakota, where she and former President Bill Clinton had made several campaign appearances in the past week, while Obama captured Montana.

Obama, appearing on the same stage in St. Paul, Minn., where Arizona Sen. John McCain will accept the Republican Party's nomination in September, wasted no time pivoting to the general election that lies ahead. Sounding a theme that has already become familiar and will likely become more so in the weeks and months ahead, Obama said McCain "decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time" in the Senate last year.

Eyes on General Election Battle

Obama charged that McCain "offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs, or insure our workers, or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college."

And turning to Iraq, Obama said, "It's not change when [McCain] promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians — a policy where all we look for are reasons to stay in Iraq, while we spend billions of dollars a month on a war that isn't making the American people any safer."

The Obama campaign estimated some 17,000 supporters were inside the convention arena. They heard Obama give the kind of rousing speech that has become his trademark in the campaign.

"America, this is our moment," the 46-year-old Illinois senator and one-time community organizer said. "This is our time — our time to turn the page on the policies of the past."

McCain took advantage of the focus on the Democratic primaries to deliver a speech in New Orleans in which he criticized Obama for voting "to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job" in Iraq.

The 71-year-old Republican said Americans should be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who has not traveled to Iraq, yet "says he's ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang."

Standing before a green banner that said "a leader we can believe in," a play on Obama's campaign slogan "change we can believe in," McCain said, "The choice is between the right change and the wrong change, between going forward and going backward."

The Clinton Question

The biggest remaining question at the end of the lengthy primary season: What are Clinton's plans for going forward? During her speech Tuesday night, Clinton indicated she continues to believe that she would be the stronger candidate in the general election against McCain. But a parade of previously uncommitted superdelegates marched into the Obama camp Tuesday, closing off that option.

Obama lavished praise on his erstwhile rival during his speech in St. Paul, asserting that the Democratic Party and the nation "are better off because of her," and that he is "a better candidate for having had the honor to compete" with Clinton. One course of action would be an Obama-Clinton ticket, a possibility Clinton encouraged in a conference call with the New York congressional delegation on Tuesday, saying she was "open to it."

But the Obama campaign is thought to be cool to the notion of Clinton as a running mate, leaving unanswered the question the candidate herself posed Tuesday night: "What does Hillary want?"

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