Clinton Wins Kentucky; Obama Takes Oregon

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The Democratic presidential rivals split Tuesday's primary races. Sen. Hillary Clinton won big in Kentucky, but Sen. Barack Obama's victory in Oregon pushed him closer to the nomination.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Both the Democratic candidates won big yesterday. Hillary Clinton took Kentucky; Barack Obama claimed Oregon. But when the delegates were counted, it was Obama who reached a milestone. He now has a majority of the delegates available in all the primaries and caucuses pledged to him. That, combined with his superdelegate total, means that he's about 60 delegates away from officially becoming the Democratic nominee.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has more.

MARA LIASSON: Obama won Oregon, but he spent the evening in the place where he won his very first victory.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): It is good to be back in Iowa.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: Iowa is also an important swing state in the general election, and choosing it for his victory party sent an unmistakable signal: that even as Obama fights Hillary Clinton in the few remaining primaries, his attention is firmly fixed on the battle with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Last night, he said he was one big step closer to beginning that contest.

Sen. OBAMA: And tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America.

LIASSON: Obama congratulated Clinton on her win in Kentucky, a much bigger victory than his in Oregon. And at a time when Clinton and her supporters are complaining about sexism in the campaign, Obama went out of his way to praise Clinton for the advances she's made for all women.

Sen. OBAMA: We've had our disagreements during this campaign, but we all admire her courage and her commitment and her perseverance. And no matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age, and for that we are grateful to her.

LIASSON: Obama barely mentions Clinton anymore on the campaign trail, other than to praise her for having been a formidable competitor. Instead, he's been focusing more and more on the candidate he sees as his real opponent.

Sen. OBAMA: Now, I will leave it up to the Senator McCain to explain to the American people whether his policies and positions represent long-held conviction or Washington calculations. But the one thing they don't represent is change.

LIASSON: In Louisville, Kentucky, a determined Senator Clinton celebrated her huge, 35-point blowout.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): It's not just Kentucky bluegrass that's music to my ears.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. CLINTON: It's the sound of your overwhelming vote of confidence even in the face of some pretty tough odds. Some have said your votes didn't matter, that this campaign was over, that allowing...

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. CLINTON: ...that allowing everyone to vote and every vote to count would somehow be a mistake, but that didn't stop you. You've never given up on me because you know I'll never give up on you.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Clinton said she would continue to fight for the nomination the only way she knows how - by never giving in.

Sen. CLINTON: I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: In Kentucky, Clinton once again won huge majorities of white, working-class voters, the kind that have also eluded Obama in other states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And that's led Clinton to argue, as she did again last night, that she is the candidate who can win swing voters in swing states. But she also sent a message of reconciliation to her rival.

Sen. CLINTON: I commend Senator Obama and his supporters, and while we continue to go toe-to-toe for this nomination, we do see eye-to-eye when it comes to uniting our party to elect a Democratic president in the fall.

LIASSON: Clinton gave no indication of when, if or how she might withdraw from the race. And although she knows the nomination is now a very long shot, winning as many delegates and popular votes as she can will help her make her case that she is the stronger nominee against McCain. But at this point, there are just not that many delegates left to win. Only three primaries remain: Puerto Rico on June 1st, and Montana and South Dakota on June 3rd. After that, the 200 or so superdelegates who are still uncommitted are expected to make their choice.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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Obama Takes Oregon; Clinton Wins Kentucky

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Clinton gets support from her husband and daughter at a rally in Louiseville i

Clinton gets support from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, at her election night rally in Louisville, Ky. Scott Olson/Getty Images) hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Clinton gets support from her husband and daughter at a rally in Louiseville

Clinton gets support from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, at her election night rally in Louisville, Ky.

Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A campaign worker holds a sign welcoming Obama back to Iowa i

A campaign worker holds a sign welcoming Obama back to Iowa before his rally in Des Moines. Obama won his first early voting contest in the Iowa caucuses in January. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A campaign worker holds a sign welcoming Obama back to Iowa

A campaign worker holds a sign welcoming Obama back to Iowa before his rally in Des Moines. Obama won his first early voting contest in the Iowa caucuses in January.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Voters cast ballots at the Multnomah County elections office on May 20, 2008, in Portland, Ore. i

Voters cast ballots at the Multnomah County elections office on May 20, 2008, in Portland, Ore. Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
Voters cast ballots at the Multnomah County elections office on May 20, 2008, in Portland, Ore.

Voters cast ballots at the Multnomah County elections office on May 20, 2008, in Portland, Ore.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

There were no surprises in Tuesday's primary results. Sen. Hillary Clinton won big in Kentucky, defeating Sen. Barack Obama by 35 percentage points. Obama easily prevailed in Oregon.

Obama also passed a campaign milestone, winning a majority of pledged delegates.

Now only three Democratic primaries remain. Clinton vowed to contest every one of them during her address to jubilant supporters in Louisville on Tuesday evening.

Calling the race for the nomination "close," Clinton said, "This continues to be a tough fight, and I have fought it the only way I know how: with determination, with never giving up and never giving in."

There aren't enough delegates left in the upcoming contests in Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana for Clinton to close Obama's lead. But Clinton said that neither she nor Obama can get enough delegates out of the next three primaries to secure the nomination.

So she said that the party leaders known as superdelegates "will have a tough choice to make: Who is ready to lead our party at the top of the ticket, who ready to defeat [presumptive Republican nominee] Sen. [John] McCain .... Who is ready on day one to lead?"

Obama Declares the Nomination 'Within Reach'

Obama now assumes he'll be the Democratic Party's answer to Clinton's questions. If he had been sidling up to a general election campaign over the past couple of weeks, he plunged in with both feet on Tuesday night.

Anticipating his victory in Oregon, Obama declared that he has won a majority of pledged delegates, and that this "put us within reach" of the Democratic presidential nomination.

His audience was not in Oregon, however, but in front of the statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. His surprising victory in the state in the January caucuses gave early validation to his candidacy against better-known rivals Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who recently endorsed Obama. Also, Iowa could be an important swing state in November.

And with November in mind, Obama went after the presumptive republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. He tried to hang unpopular President Bush around McCain's neck like an anchor.

"The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans that once bothered John McCain's conscience are now his only economic policy," Obama said.

The Illinois senator offered a similar line of attack on foreign policy, energy policy and health care.

"I will leave it up to Sen. McCain to explain to the American people whether his policies and positions represent long-held convictions or Washington calculations," said Obama, "but the one thing they don't represent is change."

Candidates Call for Unity

In her speech in Louisville earlier in the evening, Clinton followed what has become her practice lately, speaking of Obama respectfully rather than critically.

She made a pitch for Democrats to come together in November, saying she would work "as hard as I can to elect a Democratic president this fall."

"It's a little bit of a cold war going on," Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne told NPR, "but not a hot war any more. She knows that her future in the party ... depends on coming to Obama's defense this fall."

Likewise in Des Moines, Obama went out of his way to praise Hillary Clinton not only as a worthy opponent, but as a historic one.

He called Clinton "one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for this office." He congratulated her on her victory in Kentucky, adding, "No matter how this primary ends, Sen. Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age. And for that we are grateful to her."

The Final Stages

Both Clinton and Obama pledged to campaign hard in the remaining primaries in Puerto Rico (June 1), Montana and South Dakota (both on June 3). But first, they're both campaigning in Florida.

Florida looms large in Clinton's argument to Democratic superdelegates that she leads in at least one metric: the popular vote. The Sunshine State went for Clinton, but it was stripped of its delegates for moving its primary into January in violation of national Democratic Party rules.

Likewise Michigan, which also held an unsanctioned primary, which Clinton won. Obama's name didn't even appear on the Michigan ballot. The New York senator maintains that she'd be ahead in the popular vote if the tallies from those two states were counted. She also has long called on the Democratic Party to forgive Florida and Michigan and seat all the delegates.

Obama has a different task in Florida. In deference to the Democratic party's sanctions, none of the candidates campaigned there. So he has to introduce himself to voters in this important swing state and mend fences in advance of the general election.

Exit Polls

According to Associated Press exit polls, Kentucky had one of the least liberal electorates of any Democratic contest this year, with only about one-third of voters identifying themselves as liberals. About two-thirds of Kentucky voters said the economy was the top issue. As usual, Clinton ran well with older voters, rural voters, those with lower incomes and those with less education.

That held true in Oregon as well, where voters were polled by phone because of that state's vote-by-mail primary. Oregon differed from Kentucky in a number of areas. For example, 6 in 10 Oregon Democrats identified themselves as liberal, and fewer than half picked the economy as the top issue.

As in previous contests, Obama tended to appeal most strongly to young, urban, wealthier and better-educated voters. That's a demographic that describes Oregon much more than Kentucky, though voters in Louisville and some of Kentucky's other urban areas favored Obama by a few points.

Nearly all of Obama's supporters in Kentucky and Oregon believed he will win the nomination. Half of Clinton's voters in Oregon and one-third in Kentucky also think Obama will be the Democratic nominee.

With reporting by NPR staff.

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