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Primary Season Wraps Up

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Primary Season Wraps Up

Election 2008

Primary Season Wraps Up

Primary Season Wraps Up

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South Dakota and Montana are the final two states to hold primaries this year. Once the voting is over, Barack Obama could reach the magic number for claiming the Democratic presidential nomination. No declaration of victory is expected, however, until Hillary Clinton decides how to respond.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

What a difference a day makes. As people in Montana and South Dakota vote in the final primaries of a long primary season, superdelegates are moving quickly to announce their support for Barack Obama. By most accounts, Senator Obama is less than 20 delegates from reaching the magic number to win the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, it was a dramatic day regarding the Clinton campaign, with mixed messages about whether Senator Clinton might suspend her campaign this evening.

So we've summoned NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, along with her delegate calculator, for the latest update. Mara, where do things stand right now?

MARA LIASSON: Well, as you said, Barack Obama is very close to the 2,118 delegates he needs. I think actually the latest AP count is less than 20. There are 31 delegates at stake today in Montana and South Dakota, so he does need those superdelegates, and all day long he has been rolling out superdelegate endorsements - basically, by the hour. Jimmy Carter has now endorsed him; Debbie Dingell, prominent Michigan political powerhouse, wife of Congressman Dingell; and Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip in the house, has also endorsed him.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

LIASSON: Obviously, Clinton has said the race isn't going to be over until all the votes are counted. She hasn't said whether or not she's going to appeal the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting all the way to the Democratic convention. But I do think it's fair to say that this race is all over but the shouting, and of course, there might be some more shouting.

SIEGEL: Well, one - one argument that Clinton has been making to the superdelegates is that she's received more popular votes than Senator Obama has, and speaking of Congressman Clyburn, a superdelegate who's now formally endorsed Obama today, he had something to say about that. He was speaking with NPR's Michel Martin about the claim from Senator Clinton that she's received more popular votes.

SIEGEL: There's something that's called new math, there's something that's called old math, and I suspect that this is probably Clinton math.

SIEGEL: Mara, what do you make of this math argument?

LIASSON: Well, this math argument - Clinton gets the, quote, "majority of the popular vote" by either not counting any votes for Obama in Michigan, where his name was not on the ballot, or by not counting the votes from four caucus states - Nebraska, Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington - that never reported - sorry, five states - that never reported their popular vote totals. But the point about this popular vote argument is that in the Democratic Party, delegates decide the nominee, not the popular vote. And what's more important, this argument has not been working with the superdelegates.

She has made a very persistent argument that she's stronger in the general election. If the superdelegates thought so, they wouldn't be swinging to Obama so strongly. I think they believe now that giving the nomination to her would mean risking alienating the most important voting bloc in the Democratic Party, African-Americans. They do see Obama as the future of the party. He's brought in a whole lot of young voters. And at least for those battleground-state polls that she keeps on pointing to, where she's doing better against McCain than Obama is at the moment, they just aren't compelling enough to the superdelegates.

SIEGEL: Well, let's consider the future for Hillary Clinton if Obama does, either tonight or tomorrow, reach that magic number of 2,118. There was talk today, evidently, Senator Clinton told her fellow New York Congress members that she would be open to the vice presidential spot on an Obama ticket.

LIASSON: That is a - that is the big piece of news for today. The big question now, since she has said she'd be open to it, will she decide to aggressively campaign for the vice presidential slot, in effect trying to force her way onto the ticket. That would be unprecedented but of course, there's a lot this year that has been unprecedented.

SIEGEL: work to unify the party, work her heart out for Obama in the fall. Get back in good graces with African-Americans in the Democratic Party. And then, if she can't get on the ticket, think about what else she might want - a seat on the Supreme Court. Other runners-up in presidential battles have asked for that and gotten it, like Earl Warren. If Obama doesn't win, she could think about running again in 2012.

But I think the story now in the next couple of weeks is going to be this whole question of the vice presidential slot and whether or not he would give it to her, and how hard she's going to push for it.

SIEGEL: And just briefly, if that's - if those are the future questions for Clinton, what are the next steps for Obama?

LIASSON: He has to unify his party. Some of it is kind of internal party business, getting fundraisers on board, getting prominent supporters from Clinton on board with him. Also reaching out to the voting groups where he didn't do very well: white working class voters, Hispanics, Jewish voters. He's been on a kind of tour of those voters recently. He's going to Boca Raton, Florida, and the Mountain West for Hispanics, and he's gone to Malcolm County to reach out to Reagan Democrats. So he's got a lot of work to do, and he's already begun that.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Its NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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Obama Claims Nomination, Making History

NPR Special Coverage: Obama Clinches the Democratic Nomination

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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 Rodham Clinton addresses the crowd at her primary night event at Baruch College in New York, June 3, 2008. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

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

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 hide caption

toggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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

Hillary Clinton gets a hug from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, during her speech at Baruch College. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

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

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Obama greets supporters at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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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