Barack Obama stepped to the brink of victory in the Democratic presidential race, defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Oregon primary and moving within 100 delegates of the total he needs to claim the prize at the party convention this summer. Clinton countered with a lopsided win earlier Tuesday in Kentucky, a victory with scant political value in a race moving inexorably in Obama's direction. Obama said the night's contests gave him a majority of the delegates elected in all 56 primaries and caucuses combined. They are distinct from the nearly 800 superdelegates, party leaders and elected officials who are free to vote for any candidate and hold the balance of power at the convention this August in Denver. Clinton won at least 54 delegates in the two states and Obama won at least 39, according to an analysis of election returns by The Associated Press. All the Kentucky delegates were awarded, but there were still 10 to be allocated in Oregon. He had 1,956 delegates overall, out of 2,026 needed for the nomination. Clinton had 1,776, according the latest tally by the AP. Obama has won 1,649.5 pledged delegates in the primaries and caucuses, surpassing the 1,627 needed to claim a majority. "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 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 general election campaign. "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 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 vowed to remain in the race through the last primaries in early June, telling supporters in Louisville, "I'm more than determined than ever to see that every vote is cast and every ballot is counted. But in a fresh sign that their race was coming to an end, Clinton and Obama praised one another and pledged a united party for the general election. "While we continue to go toe-to-toe for this nomination, we do see eye-to-eye when it comes to uniting our party to elect a Democratic president this fall," said Clinton, whose supporters Obama will need if he is to end eight years of Republican rule in the White House. With 56 percent of the votes counted in Oregon's unique mail-in primary, Obama was gaining a 58 percent share to 42 percent for Clinton. The former first lady's victory in Kentucky was bigger yet - 65 percent to 30 percent with all the precincts reporting - and the exit polls underscored once more the work Obama has ahead if he is to win over her voters. Almost nine in 10 ballots in Kentucky were cast by whites, and the former first lady was winning their support overwhelmingly. She defeated Obama among voters of all age groups and incomes, the college educated and non-college educated, self-described liberals, moderates and conservatives. "We have had our disagreements during this campaign, but we all admire her courage, her commitment and her perseverance," Obama said of his rival and partner in a marathon race through the primaries. "No matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age." As for McCain, he said he would leave it up to the Arizona senator "to explain whether his policies and positions represent long-held convictions or Washington calculations, but the one thing they don't represent is change." McCain's spokesman countered quickly. "This election is fundamentally about who Americans can trust to secure peace and prosperity for the next generation of Americans," spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. "Without a doubt, Barack Obama is a talented political orator, but his naive plans for unconditional summits with rogue leaders and support for big tax hikes on hardworking families expose his bad judgment that Americans can ill-afford in our next president." In the fundraising chase, Obama reported cash on hand of $46.5 million, all of which can be used for the general election. Unless he takes federal funds, he is permitted to raise as much as he can. Unlike Obama, McCain is expected to take federal funds, which total about $85 million (â‚¬54.35 million) and bar him from raising other donations for his campaign's use. Both Obama and Clinton paused during the day to express best wishes to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat and liberal icon suffering from a brain tumor. "So many of us here have benefited in some way or another because of the battles he's waged, and some of us are here because of them," Obama said. 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." The Clinton campaign expressed irritation at Obama's decision to return to Iowa and mark his success in amassing a majority of delegates won in primaries and caucuses. But the Illinois senator paid no attention. "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 take consolation in having waged the strongest presidential campaign of any woman in US history. The New York senator 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 on May 31 in Washington to consider how - or whether - to seat delegates from the two states. The only primaries remaining are Puerto Rico, on June 1, followed two days later by South Dakota and Montana.