Clinton wins Kentucy; Obama takes Oregon

100 delegates away from clinching nomination, Obama declares himself on the brink of victory.

Hillary Clinton 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hillary Clinton 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Barack Obama stepped to the brink of victory in the Democratic presidential race Tuesday night despite a lopsided loss to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Kentucky primary, moving within 100 delegates of the total needed to claim the prize at the party convention this summer.
Despite losing Kentucky to Clinton by a margin of 65 percent to 30 percent, Obama picked up at least 14 delegates in the state, she at least 37. That gave him 1,931 out of the 2,026 needed to become the first black presidential nominee of a major US political party. The former first lady has 1,759 in their marathon race that has shattered voter turnout records in state after state.
The two rivals also collided in Oregon's unique vote-by-mail primary.
"You have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination," he told cheering supporters in Iowa, the overwhelmingly white state that launched him, a black, first-term senator from Illinois, on his improbable path to victory last January.
Obama said the night's contests would give him a majority of the delegates elected in all 56 primaries and caucuses combined _ as distinct from nearly 800 superdelegates, party leaders and elected officials, who hold the balance of power at the convention.
"We still have work to do to in the remaining states, where we will compete for every delegate available," he said in an e-mail sent to supporters. "But tonight, I want to thank you for everything you have done to take us this far _ farther than anyone predicted, expected or even believed possible."
Obama has already turned his attention to the general election campaign against Republican John McCain. Democratic party officials said discussions were under way to send Paul Tewes, a top Obama campaign aide, to the Democratic National Committee to oversee operations for the fall campaign.
Obama lavished praise on Clinton, his rival in a race unlike any other, and accused McCain of a campaign run by lobbyists.
"You are Democrats who are tired of being divided, Republicans who no longer recognize the party that runs Washington, independents who are hungry for change," he said, speaking to a crowd on the grounds of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines as well as the millions around the country who will elect the nation's 44th president in November.
Clinton, the one-time front-runner in the race, vowed to carry on her campaign through the last primary contests on June 3, telling cheering supporters in Louisville that this "is one of the closest races for a party's nomination in modern history."
Even so, she commended Obama as well as his supporters, and said whatever their differences, "we do see eye to eye when it comes to uniting our party and electing a Democratic president this fall."
With votes counted from all Kentucky precincts, Clinton was gaining 65 percent support, compared with 30 percent for Obama. Clinton picked up 37 delegates from Kentucky to 14 for Obama.
Oregon, where Obama drew a crowd estimated by police at 75,000 over the weekend, has 52 delegates at stake. The state also had the distinction of staging the only contest without a designated polling day. Instead, under a vote-by-mail system, election officials tallied all ballots received by 11 p.m. EDT on primary day.
After the Kentucky vote, Obama had 1,624.5 pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, just short of the 1,627 needed for a majority.
The contests were overshadowed by the news that liberal Democratic icon Sen. Edward Kennedy, the 76-year-old sole surviving son of America's most storied political family, had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Both candidates paused to express their best wishes to Kennedy.
Obama said he was shattered to hear the news.
Said Clinton: "As a lifelong champion for social justice and equality, his work has made the path easier for me, for Senator Obama and for countless others. He's been with us for our fights and we're now with him in his."
Obama is seeking to become the U.S.'s first black president while Clinton is vying to be the country's first female president.
Although Obama was moving ever closer to securing the nomination, Clinton's overwhelming victory in Kentucky underscored his problem in winning over white working-class voters whose support will be needed in the general election campaign.
In Kentucky, almost nine in 10 ballots were cast by whites, and the former first lady was winning their support overwhelmingly, according to exit polls. She defeated her rival among voters of all age groups and incomes, the college educated and non-college educated, self-described liberals, moderates and conservatives.
Though Clinton has had a strong run through the late primaries, Obama has steadily outpaced her where it counts, in the race for national convention delegates.
Obama decided to mark a victory of sorts with an evening appearance in Iowa, site of his critical Jan. 3 caucus triumph that launched him on his way through the primaries that followed.
"The question then becomes how do we complete the nomination process so that we have the majority of the total number of delegates, including superdelegates, to be able to say this thing's over," Obama told The Associated Press in an interview.
Clinton could console herself by waging the strongest presidential campaign of any woman in U.S. history.
She had no chance of catching Obama in the elected delegate tally, but she hoped to finish with more votes than her rival in all the contests combined, including Florida and Michigan, two states that were stripped of their delegates by the national party for moving their primary dates too early.
Clinton said Michigan and Florida Democrats deserve to have their votes counted. Party officials are scheduled to meet later this month to consider how - or whether - to seat all or part of the states' delegates.
The only primaries remaining are Puerto Rico, on June 1, followed two days later by South Dakota and Montana.
Increasingly, Obama has been concentrating his campaign on McCain rather than on Clinton.
The former first lady, too, has jettisoned the sharp attacks against Obama that characterized the race only a few weeks ago, although she bristled on Monday at his decision to focus on the fall campaign. "You can declare yourself anything, but if you don't have the votes, it doesn't matter," she said in an interview with an Oregon television station.
Even so, there was no shortage of signs that the closest Democratic nominating campaign in a generation was reaching its final stages after drawing more than 33 million voters to the polls and shattering numerous turnout records along the way.
As recently as May 6, Obama trailed Clinton among superdelegates, the officeholders and party leaders who will attend the national convention by virtue of their positions and are free to vote for any candidate regardless of the primary and caucus results.
But in the days following his convincing victory in the North Carolina primary and his narrow defeat in Indiana, Obama has gained the support of at least 50 superdelegates and taken the lead in that category. Clinton has gained nine over that period.
Obama also has picked up the endorsements of former Sen. John Edwards, who dropped out of the race in the early going, two labor unions and NARAL Pro-Choice America. The abortion rights advocacy organization had supported Clinton throughout her political career.
Fundraisers for the two campaigns have held quiet discussions on working together in the fall campaign.
Additionally, Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, disclosed he had contacted Clinton's former campaign manager about joining forces for the general election. Patti Solis Doyle confirmed what she called informal conversations about how she might help the Illinois senator if, as expected, he secures the presidential nomination.