Sen. Barack Obama’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination ended in a historic victory Tuesday night, as the Illinois senator achieved the magic number needed to make him his party's standard bearer. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, signaled that her once seemingly invincible campaign was coming to a close - though she pointedly did not concede and broadly indicated her interest in the vice presidency.
Obama and de facto Republican nominee Sen. John McCain launched into a cross-country debate that essentially kicked off the general election campaign. McCain, speaking in a New Orleans suburb, strongly criticized Obama's stance on the war in Iraq and mocked his mantra of change.
"This is, indeed, a change election. ... But the choice is between the right change and the wrong change, between going forward and going backward," McCain said.
Obama, in remarks prepared for delivery in St. Paul, Minn., shot back: "It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year, It's not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs. ... And it's not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave young men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians."
In a symbolic move, Obama spoke in the same hall where McCain will accept the Republican nomination at his party's convention in September.
While the mantle of history settled on Obama, the first black man to be his party's nominee, drama continued to swirl around his primary opponent - who surprisingly hinted that she is interested in being his running mate. Clinton posted a convincing win in South Dakota, one of the party's final two contests. Obama won Montana.
Clinton’s intentions on the final day of primary voting caused widespread confusion Tuesday morning, as aides seemed to contradict each other about whether she would formally concede and end her candidacy after votes came in from South Dakota and Montana.
In a speech at New York’s Baruch College, Clinton praised Obama and signaled her cooperation in the fall. Obama "has inspired so many Americans to care about politics and empowered so many more to get involved." Clinton said. "And our party and our democracy is stronger and more vibrant as a result."
"I am committed to uniting our party so we move forward stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House in November," she said
Clinton was careful not to formally end her campaign, however, leaving her the option to speak out on issues, exert influence on Obama or to position herself as his potential vice presidential nominee - a possibility she did not rule out during a call Tuesday with the New York congressional delegation.
"I will be making no decisions tonight," Clinton said, saying she would confer with party leaders and supporters to "to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way."
Obama, meanwhile, could wait and watch as the party’s shyest superdelegates raced into his column. By late evening, Tuesday's endorsements left him within single digits of the 2,118 needed to put him over the top, according to Politico's count. Nearly 200 superdelegates have yet to make an endorsement, but most are expected to rush to Obama within hours or days. One of the most high profile: former President Jimmy Carter said he would endorse Obama after polls close Tuesday.
“Now, as the nominating process comes to an end, it is time to unite behind Barack Obama, who will be our Democratic nominee for the White House,” said Michigan superdelegate Debbie Dingell, a Clinton ally on seating her state’s delgation. “He will lead our party to victory in November, carrying Michigan for the Democrats by running a campaign focused on bringing change to working families.