Just moments after the South Dakota polls closed on Tuesday night (June 3), CNN projected that Democratic Senator Barack Obama had secured enough votes to be the first black man in U.S. history to become the presidential nominee of a major American political party.
"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," Obama said during his victory speech in Minnesota, which focused not on the historic nature of his accomplishment, but on the people who helped him achieve it and on his mission to turn back the policies of the Bush administration. "Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."
As for the results of Tuesday's primaries, Senator Hillary Clinton won in South Dakota by 55 percent to 45 percent, with 93 percent. Obama won in Montana by a 57 to 41 percent margin. The delegate total in Tuesday's contests in South Dakota and Montana was small, at just 31 delegates.
Before the South Dakota vote was counted, Obama's tally stood at 2,114 delegates, just a shade below the 2,118 needed to secure his long-sought goal. The presumptive victory by Obama was secured in part by the enthusiastic support of young voters, an army of Internet donors and a message of hope and change, which helped the first-term Illinois senator rise up being from 30 points behind Clinton last year. The epic battle between a political dynasty and a brash newcomer will go down in U.S. political history. Clinton, vying to be the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. party, was the presumptive front-runner when she entered the race last year, and her success in large states and among older voters and women presented a formidable challenge to Obama once his momentum began to take shape early in the primary season.
Taking a fist-pound from wife Michelle, Obama stepped to the podium Tuesday in front of more than 15,000 screaming supporters at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, with U2's "Beautiful Day" blasting from the speakers. Dedicating the speech to his grandmother, who he said made him the man he is today, Obama praised the end of the long, 54-contest primary season and 16-month journey to his party's nomination.
Several months before he will take the stage in Denver on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, Obama also praised the field of fellow Democratic candidates, which he called the strongest ever, singling out Clinton for making history in the campaign.
"She has made history, not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before," Obama said — a pointed departure from the speech Clinton gave earlier in the evening, in which she made no reference to the historical nature of Obama's achievement or even to his clinching the nomination. "But because she is a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight ... I congratulate her on the race she has run throughout this contest."
In a sign of the important task of winning over Clinton's supporters, Obama then gave a detailed roadmap of his former opponent's tenacity and career accomplishments, saying that he, the party and the country are better off because of Clinton and that he is a better candidate because of her. And, as he has in the past, Obama also praised expected Republican nominee Senator John McCain. "We honor the service of John McCain and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine," Obama said, before ticking off a list of what he said were the similarities between McCain's policies and the failures of the Bush administration.
"What you won't see from this campaign or this party is the politics that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but as enemies to polarize," he said, in keeping with his pledge throughout the campaign to focus on issues and not mudslinging, a stance that McCain has also tried to honor. "America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face," Obama said, his voice rising above the din of the crowd.
"Our time to offer a new direction for this country that we love. The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. ... I face [this challenge] with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people, because if we are willing to work for it and fight for it and believe in it then I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals."
Earlier in the evening, also facing a raucous crowd, a calm-looking Clinton began her address at Baruch College in New York by congratulating Obama and his supporters for their "extraordinary" race. "Senator Obama has inspired so many Americans to care about politics and empowered so many more to get involved. And our party and our democracy is stronger and more vibrant as a result." Clinton's campaign said she logged nearly 18 million votes, a number it claimed was the highest total for any candidate in primary history. And, as she looked back on the highs of the long primary, her supporters repeatedly interrupted with chants of "Yes she will!" despite the finality of Tuesday's results.
"I often felt that each of your votes was a prayer for our nation," Clinton said. "A declaration of your dreams for your children. A reflection of your desire to chart a new course in this new century. And in the end, while this primary was long, I am so proud we stayed the course together." Clinton spoke of the record numbers of voters, 35 million, who voted in the primaries, and while she didn't come anywhere close to explicitly endorsing Obama, she did offer that she was committed to "uniting our party so we move forward stronger and more ready than ever to take back the White House this November."
Answering the question on everyone's mind, Clinton acknowledged that many people have wondered just what it is she wants out of this race. "I want what I have always fought for in this whole campaign: I want to end the war in Iraq. I want to turn this economy around. I want health care for every American. I want every child to live up to his or her God-given potential. And I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible."
As promised, Clinton did not announce what her plans were now that Obama has crossed the mathematical threshold. "The question now is where do we go from here?" Clinton asked. "Given how far we've come and where we need to go as a party, it's a question I don't take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight," she said to loud cheers, adding that she would be consulting with party leaders and supporters over the next few days to determine how to move forward.
Monty Stewart, a 25-year-old who was there for Clinton's address, was happy with the New York senator's decision. "I'm so glad she didn't concede," he said. "She's one of the nation's greatest leaders. I think she's a role model for any young American, not just women. She has always been about making change for the better."
Get informed! Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including everything from the latest news on the candidates to on-the-ground multimedia reports from our 51 citizen journalists, MTV and MySpace's Presidential Dialogues, and much more.