Obama, in W. Virginia, Points to Fall Election

Sen. Barack Obama, speaking in Charleston, W. Va., all but concedes he will not win Tuesday's Democratic primary in West Virginia. But he continues to express confidence that he will be the party's nominee for president and is shifting into "general election" mode.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And to presidential politics now. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both campaigned today in West Virginia, one day before the primary there. Polls suggest Senator Clinton will win that contest handily. Still, Obama continuous to run as though his nomination is all but in the bag.

He's scheduling visits to states that voter in primary's months ago, but will be crucial in a contest against John McCain - states such as Missouri, Michigan and Florida. And there are signs of a potential compromise on succeeding of the Florida delegation at the Democratic convention. Both Florida and Michigan had been banned for holding their primaries too early.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports on the long view from the Obama campaign.

DON GONYEA: The campaign in West Virginia has that through the looking glass vibe on the eve of primary voting there. Senator Obama, who by the numbers seems to be cruising toward the nomination, spoke today in the city of Charleston.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Now, there's election here tomorrow?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. OBAMA: I am - I am extraordinarily honored that some of you will support me.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: Then, more than 30 hours before the polls in the state will close, he offered what sounds like a concession.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: I understand that many more here in West Virginia will probably support Senator Clinton.

(Soundbite of shouting)

Sen. OBAMA: This is true?

(Soundbite of shouting)

Sen. OBAMA: No, no.

GONYEA: But it's about his upbeat as a predicted lost will ever get. Contrast that with this video posted on the Internet by Senator Clinton's campaign. On the eve of a big win in West Virginia, her tone sounds anything but victorious.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): I just wanted to take a minute and thank all of you who have been supporting this campaign. I just can't even tell you how much it means to me to have your enthusiastic, energetic support, the care that you give in everything you think about this campaign and talk...

GONYEA: Obama use his West Virginia event to focus on how the U.S. treats its veterans after they've completed their military service. He called for passage of a new G.I. bill that would help returning veterans get a college degree. He noted that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, opposes the bill as too costly. And Obama said the Bush administration has failed to provide veterans and active military personnel with the basic care and support they've earned.

Senator OBAMA: We all learned about the deplorable conditions that were discovered at places like Fort Bragg and Walter Reed. We've all walked by a veteran whose home is now a cardboard box on a street corner in the richest nation on earth. We've all heard about what it's like to navigate the broken bureaucracy of the VA - the impossibly long lines and the repeated calls for help that get you nothing more than an answering machine.

GONYEA: After that Charleston speech, it was off to Kentucky which holds its primary next Tuesday. But more telling are the other stops on Obama's schedule over the coming week. Michigan and Florida are on his itinerary, the extremely important swing states that were banned from the convention for scheduling January primaries in defiance of national party rules. It's important that Obama start mending fences in those states.

By the time he gets to Florida next week, it's possible that a deal will have been made to seat the state's delegation at the convention, and split its votes between the candidates. Tomorrow night, as the West Virginia results come in, Obama will be in another important battleground state that held its primary months ago, Missouri.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill represents the state and was one of Obama's key early supporters.

Senator CLAIRE McCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): He is going to Cape Girardeau to have a town hall with people in more rural areas of the state about their challenges.

GONYEA: McCaskill admits that some people may see Obama getting ahead of himself by looking beyond the primaries.

Sen. McCASKILL: But I do think that he is anxious also to get back to states that will be very important in November. And I think this is the first of many visits that he will make to states like Missouri that have a well deserved reputation as a bellwether state.

GONYEA: No doubt he's also eager to cast himself as the Democratic nominee, a role that Hillary Clinton has not yet given up on winning for herself.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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