McCain Previews Experience-Over-Youth Strategy

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain had a rally Tuesday in Kenner, La., where he acknowledged that Democratic Barack Obama would be a formidable opponent. McCain previewed his likely campaign mantra that paints him as the experienced candidate compared with Obama's youthfulness.

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Republican John McCain was in Kenner, Louisiana last night. He called Obama a formidable opponent, but he said he's the one with a record to run on. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

(Soundbite of music)

PAM FESSLER: The hundreds of people who came to hear John McCain speak at the Pontchartrain Center just outside of New Orleans knew that this wasn't just another event in a long primary season. The evening felt like a celebration, now that McCain's fall campaign target had finally come into focus.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): You know, I have a few years on my opponent…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. McCAIN: …so I'm surprised that a young man has bought in to so many failed ideas.

(Soundbite of applause)

FESSLER: And that clearly will be McCain's mantra in the months to come: Obama young, McCain experienced. The Republican said it was his opponent who looked to the past to solve the nation's problems, wanting to dust off old tired big government policies of the '60s and '70s.

Sen. McCAIN: Like others before him, he seems to think government is the answer to every problem, that government should take our resources and make our decisions for us.

(Soundbite of booing)

FESSLER: McCain said he wants smaller government and less spending. In fact, he said many of the government's policies and institutions have failed, not the least of which was the response to Hurricane Katrina, an especially sore point in this still-battered region.

McCain knows one of his most serious challenges in the general election is separating himself from the current administration.

Sen. McCAIN: Now, you'll hear from my opponent's campaign in every speech, in every interview, every press release, that I'm running for President Bush's third term. You'll hear every policy of the president is described as the Bush-McCain policy.

FESSLER: McCain said it's just not true, that he's opposed the Bush administration on a number of policies, such as the treatment of detainees. Just look at my record, he told the crowd, adding in another swipe at Obama, the country didn't just get to know him yesterday, as they're now getting to know Obama.

Sen. McCAIN: He's an impressive man who makes a great first impression, but he hasn't been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters, to bring real change to Washington. I have.

(Soundbite of applause)

FESSLER: Still, outside, McCain supporter Steve Bunker of Kenner says he's a little worried that his candidate's up against such a dynamic opponent.

Mr. STEVE BUNKER: I think it's going to be tough because everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon for Obama. I think it's going to be tough on him. He's not the flashy shooting star, you know? But a shooting star burns out.

FESSLER: If the crowd last night was any indication, McCain might pick up support from Hillary Clinton fans who are now looking elsewhere. New Orleans resident Vanessa Stubb said she'd considered Clinton, but there's no way she'll vote for Obama after his minister made what she considers racially divisive remarks.

Ms. VANESSA STUBB: With the recent Barack Obama and his church problems, I completely went from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican. And I'm very proud to say that I'm going to vote for John McCain this year.

FESSLER: And for others like Stubbs, McCain made a point last night of praising Clinton. He said she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, New Orleans.

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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

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

itoggle caption 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

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

itoggle caption 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

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

itoggle caption 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

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

itoggle caption 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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