Election 2008

Obama Trolls for Support on Capitol Hill

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Barack Obama returned to Washington, D.C., on Thursday after the latest round of primaries. The Illinois senator spent the day on Capitol Hill courting uncommitted Democratic superdelegates. Thursday night, he spoke to members of the Jewish community at an event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

There was a reception in an ornate ballroom here in Washington, D.C. last night and it celebrated the creation of the nation of Israel six decades ago. The vice president was there among the dignitaries who addressed the many powerful guests. Also offering congratulations to Israel was Senator Barack Obama.

NPR's Don Gonyea was with Obama on a day when the frontrunner also courted TV anchors and superdelegates on Capitol Hill.

DON GONYEA: For Senator Obama, the event marking the establishment of Israel was a chance to get off the campaign trail and speak to one of the most critical elements of U.S. foreign policy - America's relationship with Israel. It should be noted here that some in the Jewish community have expressed doubts about Obama's commitment to Israel. They worry that as president he might not be as devoted to Israel's security as he was to a Mideast peace agreement.

But last night Obama was unequivocal in his praise of a Jewish state that he said has endured through decades of war and terror.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): But through these challenges to their state's existence, Israelis have done more than survived. They have forged a brilliant and strong democracy. They've provided a promised land for Jews from around the world. They've built a thriving economy that has spread opportunity to Israeli citizens while enriching the world. And they've developed a rich cultural life and made enormous contributions to the sciences and the arts.

GONYEA: Obama also paid homage to the deep bond between Israel and the U.S., describing the bonds between the two as unbreakable.

Sen. OBAMA: As somebody who has had the great honor of running for the presidency of the United States of America, I pledge to you that I will do whatever I can in whatever capacity to not only ensure Israel's security but also to ensure that the people of Israel are able to thrive and prosper and build on the enormous promise that was made 60 years ago.

GONYEA: Jewish voters are an important constituency for Democrats and Obama will need to offer such reassurances over the course of the campaign if he hopes to maintain strong support from that bloc in November. This was a week in which a strong showing for the senator in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries brought him close to the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton.

Seeking to close that deal, Obama returned to Capitol Hill yesterday and paid a visit on the House of Representatives. There he was greeted like a future president by supporters in the Democratic caucus. While playing it cool, Obama also trained his attention on those members whose superdelegate votes remain unclaimed.

He spoke briefly to reporters in the hallway of the Capitol.

Sen. OBAMA: There's some undecided. If they have questions for me, then I'm certainly happy to respond to them. Obviously, people have been anxious about some of the sense of division in the party and I just wanted to assure them that whatever happens, we will be coming together.

GONYEA: Over the course of the day, Obama refused to say he had sewn up the nomination. He stressed that there are upcoming primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky, where Senator Clinton is the heavy favorite. But while he declined to wear the victor's garland, his campaign issued a blunt message - that simple mathematics dictate Obama's nomination is a certainty, that now it's just a question of when.

In an interview last night with NBC News anchor Brian Williams, Obama said he's convinced that after this brutal primary season is complete, Democrats will unite, whatever some of them say now.

Sen. OBAMA: That doesn't mean that I don't have a job in front of me if I end up being the nominee. I think it's important for us to systematically reach out and describe for people with as much specificity as possible what exactly an Obama presidency would mean.

GONYEA: Following last night's tribute to Israel, Obama headed back out on the trail again. Today and tomorrow he campaigns in Oregon, a state that votes on May 20th and one where he's favored to win. It could also be the place where he gains the majority of pledged delegates overall and officially claims the Democratic nomination as his, allowing him to begin the outreach to voters who still have serious questions about him and what kind of president he might be.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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