ST. PAUL, MINN. -- As he boarded the plane in Chicago, a visibly proud Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, already knew that he had clinched the Democratic nomination. A campaign aide emailed his victory speech shortly before taking off for Minneapolis and the first line read, "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. Tonight I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States."
On the flight from Chicago to Minneapolis, Obama and his aides brought their friends and family to celebrate the night. David Axelrod, chief strategist to the campaign described the evening as "surreal" and "extraordinary."
"We're going to celebrate tonight and then we're going to wake up tomorrow and start all over again," Axelrod told reporters. "We're not in this simply to break a barrier; we're in this to try and change the country."
Obama chatted with confidant and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on the flight as well as others, as he smiled and took quick glances at the press. Axelrod told reporters that Obama's mood is happy but steady. "He never gets too high and he never gets too low," Axelrod explained.
Perhaps Obama is wise to remain steady tonight because as he made his short trip to Minneapolis to claim his victory, John McCain was already taking jabs at him in a speech in New Orleans.
Obama later acknowledged that one tough chapter in the election process has closed but that an even tougher chapter is about to begin. "The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations," Obama said tonight at the Xcel Energy Center, the site of this year's Republican National Convention.
Going forward, he promised not to fight a personal battle with his presumptive Republican opponent despite expecting personal shots from McCain. "My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign," Obama said.
"The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don't deserve is another election that's governed by fear, and innuendo, and division."
Both Obama and his aides are looking forward tonight, and clearly have shifted their focus away from Hillary Clinton. Obama praised her tonight, saying that Clinton has "made history in this campaign" and said the lengthy primary has strengthened the Democratic Party. "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," he said.
His aides believe that the process has also made Obama a stronger candidate and their staff a more formidable team. "I feel like we're a tougher group for having gone through this exercise, and we're very well prepared for anything our Republican friends might throw at us."