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As Primary Race Ends, Next Contest Is in Full Swing

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is in Karachi, Pakistan. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.

Barack Obama has made history. He collected enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination for president, which would make him the first black presidential nominee of a major party. Last night, he locked up the 2,118 delegates he needs at the party's convention in August.

For her part, Hillary Clinton congratulated Obama for his accomplishments, but did not concede defeat. She said she would not make any decisions about her future right away, but she did say she was open to the vice presidential slot on the ticket.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: After five months and 56 contests, a triumphant Barack Obama appeared before 20,000 supporters in Minnesota.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Tonight, I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States of America.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: That meant his next task was to reach out to his opponent.

Sen. OBAMA: She has made history, not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she is a leader who inspired millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight.

LIASSON: There were few policy differences that divided Obama and Clinton in the campaign. It was demography, not ideology, that caused the biggest rift. Even in South Dakota last night, Clinton to win big margins among white voters without college degrees, while Obama, once again, fared better with upscale, affluent Democrats.

But now the primaries are over, and Obama must unify the party. To do that, he needs help from Clinton. She spoke to her supporters in New York City, congratulating Obama but not conceding defeat, and she raised a very pertinent question.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): You know, I understand that a lot of people are asking what does Hillary want? What does she want?

LIASSON: Apparently, one thing she wants is to continue making her case that she would be the stronger nominee.

Sen. CLINTON: In the millions of quiet moments in thousands of places, you asked yourself a simple question: who will be the strongest candidate and the strongest…

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. CLINTON: Who will be ready to take back the White House and take charge as commander-in-chief and lead our country to better tomorrows?

LIASSON: And she repeated her claim to having won more votes.

Sen. CLINTON: Nearly 18 million of you cast your votes…

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. CLINTON: …for our campaign, carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. CLINTON: Even when the pundits and the naysayers proclaimed week after week that this race was over…

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. CLINTON: …you kept on voting.

LIASSON: Now, said Clinton, the question is where do we go from here?

Sen. CLINTON: Given how far we've come…

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. CLINTON: …and where we need to go as a party is a question I don't take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: In the coming days, Clinton said she would be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward. In a conference call with the New York congressional delegation yesterday, she said she would be open to the vice presidential spot, but the vice presidency is something the Obama camp is not interested in talking about just yet and may never be interested in offering to her.

While Clinton considers her future, Obama will be keeping his focus firmly fixed on John McCain. Last night, he made a quick pivot from honoring Clinton to attacking the man he will run against this fall.

Sen. OBAMA: While John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign.

LIASSON: Obama's goal is to convince voters that John McCain is now a carbon copy of President Bush, who is deeply unpopular and a big drag on Republican fortunes this year.

Sen. OBAMA: So, I'll say this: There are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new, but change is not one of them.

LIASSON: As one race ended, the next was in full swing, with the major nominees often crossing paths. On Monday, McCain spoke to the American Israeli lobby, AIPAC, attacking Obama's approach to Iran. Today, Obama addresses the same group, and - it's worth noting - so does Hillary Clinton.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.