Obama Says He Won, But Clinton Does Not Concede
Sixteen months after he announced an unlikely and audacious bid to change American politics, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) appeared to win the necessary delegates to be the Democratic National Convention presidential nominee in 2008.
"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," Obama said, speaking at a large rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Because of you, tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."
Meanwhile, as mainstream media were declaring an end to her candidacy, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), speaking to her supporters in New York City, refused to concede the nomination and reiterated the points she will make to party leaders in coming days: that she would be the strongest candidate to win in the fall.
"I am committed to uniting our party, so we can move forward, stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House this November," she said. "In the coming days, I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding the way."
Tuesday was the final day of the Democrat's 2008 nominating season, with Obama winning Montana and Clinton winning South Dakota. As the polls closed in Montana, Obama announced the support of more than two dozen superdelegates -- party leaders -- that pushed him far past the 2,118 delegate threshold needed to become the nominee, according to a tally by the Associated Press. In contrast, Clinton had 1,907 delegates.
As Obama supporters celebrated from coast to coast, and their candidate praised Clinton in his remarks and then opened a General Election-style campaign by distinguishing his views from those of the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Clinton left open the possibility that she would contest Obama's delegate totals within the party's governing bodies. Just this past weekend, a top campaign lawyer accused the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee of "hijacking" delegates after that body accepted a compromise on seating the Florida and Michigan delegations. It remains to be seen whether Clinton will appeal that decision to the party's Credentials Committee.
"Now the question is, where do we go from here, and given how far we've come and where we need to go as a party, it's a question I don't take lightly," she said.
Despite her refusal to concede, Obama praised Clinton in his remarks, saying she was among the Democratic Party's best and brightest leaders, and one who would be very influential in the party for years to come. "Our party and our country are better off because of her," he said, "and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Obama then turned to the question on many Democrat's minds -- how to heal the rift in the party between Democrats who support him and who support Clinton.
"There are those who say that this primary has somehow left us weaker and more divided," he said. "Well I say that because of this primary, there are millions of Americans who have cast their ballot for the very first time. There are Independents and Republicans who understand that this election isn't just about the party in charge of Washington, it's about the need to change Washington. There are young people, and African Americans, and Latinos, and women of all ages who have voted in numbers that have broken records and inspired a nation."
Then, as is his style, Obama appealed to Democrat's better angels to unify behind a campaign for real change.
"All of you chose to support a candidate you believe in deeply," he began. "But at the end of the day, we aren't the reason you came out and waited in lines that stretched block after block to make your voice heard. You didn't do that because of me or Senator Clinton or anyone else. You did it because you know in your hearts that at this moment -- a moment that will define a generation -- we cannot afford to keep doing what we've been doing. We owe our children a better future. We owe our country a better future. And for all those who dream of that future tonight, I say - let us begin the work together. Let us unite in common effort to chart a new course for America."
New Politics, New Party?
The Obama campaign's apparent triumph is singular in American politics. Beyond the history-making achievement of candidate with a mixed-race background winning the presidential nomination for the first time in American history, the campaign has done what no other presidential candidate has done for decades. Not perhaps since John Kennedy's run in 1960 has a newcomer to presidential politics built a political organization that delivered the nomination.
Most upstart campaigns usually end up as symbolic efforts -- running out of money, momentum, or both, long before the final primaries or the national party conventions. Consider the fate of efforts in both parties by candidates such as Howard Dean, Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson, Ron Paul, Jerry Brown, Pat Buchanan, Gary Hart and John Anderson, to name a few in recent decades.
In contrast, Obama defied political convention. He created a fundraising machine that did not rely on traditional Washington-centric Democratic donors and corporate checkbooks. Instead he turned to small donations delivered via the Internet. Similarly, he built a field operation that relied on a new generation of political volunteers -- along with many long-time campaigners who felt revitalized by his candidacy -- and redrew the political map.
Obama out-organized the Clinton campaign in most states where there were caucuses, or party meetings at the local, county and state level that elected delegates that end up at the national party convention. In Texas, for example, the Clinton campaign tried to challenge the credentials of a nearly million caucus-goers -- a majority of whom supported Obama. While the Texas state party rejected that challenge, it reveals his organizing abilities.
On the issues, both Obama and Clinton have staked out liberal and center-left positions that are similar in many respects, although Obama has been more aggressive on leaving Iraq. Still, it is their management styles and tone that distinguishes the two candidates.
Obama's management style has been described as being akin to a trained legal mediator, or a person who seeks consensus among shared principles and then crafts solutions based on that common ground. In contrast, Clinton has been described as more of a hands-on executive, a manager who knows and relishes the details needed to steer the ship of state. She also is more of a partisan, seeking to fulfill the prerogatives that accompany power, rather than instinctively seeking solutions with former or potential foes.
Whether Obama's conciliatory disposition will translate into offering Clinton the vice-presidential slot on the ticket will be the topic of much speculation in coming days. Top party leaders say they want the nominating contest resolved as soon as possible, so their nominee can rest and begin to focus on John McCain. Presumably, the last thing they want is an ongoing high-tension legal battle over delegate credentials.
Late on Tuesday, various media outlets reported that Clinton, in a conference call with New York members of Congress, was asked by Rep. Nydia Velasquez to consider the vice presidency "to ensure that Hispanics turned out in strong numbers."
Clinton reportedly said she would do "whatever it takes" to elect a Democrat in the fall, which was seen as expressing interest. However, neither Clinton nor Obama campaign officials said their candidates have given the matter much thought, at least while there were pending primary contests.
Now, there will be more time -- and perhaps necessity -- to consider that possibility.