- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, MINN. - Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday clinched the Democratic presidential race, becoming the first black to secure a major party’s White House nomination as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared to end her own historic bid and fed speculation about taking the vice presidential slot on the fall ticket.

The 46-year-old, first-term U.S. senator from Illinois crossed the Democrats’ 2,118 delegate threshold early Tuesday evening after a flood of endorsements from superdelegates - elected officials and party leaders - including Clinton supporters and former President Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Obama, who was poised to win the final two contests of the prolonged primary season in Montana and South Dakota Tuesday night, declared victory at the Xcel Energy Center here - the site where his general election rival Sen. John McCain will officially be chosen as the Republican nominee this summer.

“And because of what you said; because you decided that change must come to Washington; because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest; because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another - a journey that will bring a new and better day to America,” Mr. Obama said in prepared remarks.

“Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.”

The celebration - five months after Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucus - marked the final shift to the general election, five months from tomorrow.

He prepared to frame Mr. McCain as a carbon copy of President Bush while praising Mrs. Clinton and extending welcoming arms to her loyal supporters, whom he will need in the fall.

“When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen,” he said. “Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Devastated Clinton fans and aides said yesterday that they approached the day with a heavy heart - most were proud that the party would have its first black nominee but were sad their candidate was not able to break the glass ceiling.

In New York, Mrs. Clinton was to suspend her campaign but not completely drop out of the race. She is expected to endorse Mr. Obama soon.

In the coming months, Mr. Obama will select a running mate, and it’s yet to be seen whether he will consider his former rival among a potential shortlist of possibilities.

Mr. Obama has long said Mrs. Clinton would be a good vice presidential pick for any nominee and yesterday she began positioning herself as interested in the job.

She told New York lawmakers who asked about the possibility of her taking a spot as Mr. Obama’s running mate in the fall, “I am open to it.”

Sources on the call told the Associated Press that Mrs. Clinton said she would do it if it would help the party win against presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

While some lamented that this would not be the year for the first female nominee, party leaders hailed Mr. Obama, who would give a convention acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a civil rights icon and the highest-ranking black in legislator called the timing tantamount to “the stars aligning.”

He said the party is on the verge of turning King’s dream to reality.

“That, to me, is history worth living for,” he said.

Obama adviser David Axelrod said the historic nature of the evening is “almost surreal.”

“It’s going to take a little while for it to sink in. I am proud of him and proud of this country. It says a great deal about the progress we’ve made in this country.”

Mr. Clyburn liked the idea of Mrs. Clinton on the Democratic ticket, saying, “I would not be insulted by that at all.”

Others said a joint ticket would foster needed unity after the hard fought contest.

Mr. Axelrod pointed out that there have been 54 contests and that of course there are “going to be hard feelings” from some supporters after that length of time. He said Democrats ultimately will realize that there are “bigger things at stake.”

Obama campaign officials refused to engage in questions about whether Mrs. Clinton would be seriously considered for the ticket and would only repeat the candidate’s line about how she is formidable and obviously would be a good choice for anyone.

“We don’t have a shortlist or a long list,” Mr. Axelrod said.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the campaign instead is switching to a “new phase,” starting in the “same building where John McCain will lay out a vision very similar to the past eight years.”

But the Republican National Committee gloated in a memo about the “Democrat Disunity” that Mr. Obama “will inherit a fractured party that is deeply divided over his role as standard-bearer and his ability to be president.”

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were grinning as they boarded his plane Tuesday night, and he leaned into the aisle to chat amicably with friends and staffers in the first-class cabin.

In his prepared remarks, Mr. Obama said that despite public perception, independence from the Republican Party is not the hallmark of Mr. McCain’s career.

“It’s not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush ninety-five percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not change when he 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 - policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, and left our children with a mountain of debt.”

While the Obama team was cheering, they acknowledged that there is “a lot of hard work” ahead.

“We’re going to celebrate tonight, and we’re going to wake up tomorrow and start all over again,” Mr. Axelrod said.

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