And so it came to pass that on Tuesday, June 3, exactly five months after the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses and five months ahead of the November general election, a major Western country for the first time nominated for its presidency a member of a racial minority.
Well, not yet nominated, because the actual nominating process will not culminate until the Democrats' August convention in Denver. But Illinois Sen. Barack Obama topped Tuesday night, after the final South Dakota and Montana primaries, the delegate total required for the nomination.
The putative Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and the runnerup for the Democratic nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, also gained broad television exposure Tuesday night. The appearances of McCain, Clinton, and Obama gave us signals of what to expect of them in the immediate future.
Obama targets Republicans
Obama's remarks in St. Paul, Minn., the site of the Republican national convention, amounted to a general, generic attack on current Republican policies. It was tough on McCain. It set forth traditional Democratic themes in a partisan way. Its bottom line theme, of course, was change.
Whether he realizes it or not, Obama has evolved during the course of his campaign from a purveyor of hope, bipartisan cooperation, and problem solving to a more conventional liberal partisan championing positions on international trade, educational policy, and other issues which match those of key Democratic interest groups. This has happened, in part, because his closely contested race with Clinton caused him to make competitive interest-group appeals.
In becoming a more conventional partisan, Obama has taken a calculated risk. He will in the general election be able to hold young, first-time voters and African Americans. But he risks losing independent votes. He also must work hard to attract so-called Reagan Democratic, blue-collar, senior-citizen, and women's constituencies among whom Clinton ran strong in the nominating process.
Obama also has been distracted in recent days by more news reports regarding his relationships with controversial Chicago pastors, a 1960s radical bomber, and a notorious Chicago political fixer. All of this, taken together, has forced Obama onto the defensive and stolen some of his early magic.
Clinton attempts to steal spotlight
Clinton, speaking in New York, gave a speech which had to disappoint Obama. She congratulated him on a campaign well run but not well won. She spoke of her own strong popular-vote total, her victories in big electoral states, and declared she would make no decision on her own future until conferring with advisors and party leaders over a period of several days. She also invited supporters to communicate with her campaign Web site and advise her of their wishes. She spent surprisingly little time on Republicans or McCain.
Clinton had every right to crow. She did carry big states Democrats must win in the fall election. She finished more strongly than Obama, carrying a string of late primaries, including those Sunday, June 1, in Puerto Rico and Tuesday night in South Dakota. Had her campaign not complacently ceded early caucus states to Obama, she, rather than he, would gone over the top with a winning delegate total Tuesday night.
Clinton's speech appeared to confirm speculation over the past several days that she indeed wants the vice presidential nomination. It laid down her marker and invited Obama to make her some kind of offer. It would be surprising if her supporters' e-mails did not encourage her to continue in the nominating race until Denver. It will be interesting to see how many encourage her to challenge the party rules committee's vote last weekend on seating of the Michigan delegation to the convention and bring it to the party credentials committee next month.
Speculation on a Clinton vice presidential nomination will subside after a few days. After all, Obama will not make an official choice for many weeks. It also is uncertain whether Clinton really wants to be No. 2 — unless she believes Obama is a 2008 loser and a vice-presidential candidacy now would help her own 2012 nominating campaign.
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