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Clinton Wins Kentucky; Obama Takes Oregon

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Both the Democratic candidates won big yesterday. Hillary Clinton took Kentucky; Barack Obama claimed Oregon. But when the delegates were counted, it was Obama who reached a milestone. He now has a majority of the delegates available in all the primaries and caucuses pledged to him. That, combined with his superdelegate total, means that he's about 60 delegates away from officially becoming the Democratic nominee.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has more.

MARA LIASSON: Obama won Oregon, but he spent the evening in the place where he won his very first victory.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): It is good to be back in Iowa.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: Iowa is also an important swing state in the general election, and choosing it for his victory party sent an unmistakable signal: that even as Obama fights Hillary Clinton in the few remaining primaries, his attention is firmly fixed on the battle with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Last night, he said he was one big step closer to beginning that contest.

Sen. OBAMA: And tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America.

LIASSON: Obama congratulated Clinton on her win in Kentucky, a much bigger victory than his in Oregon. And at a time when Clinton and her supporters are complaining about sexism in the campaign, Obama went out of his way to praise Clinton for the advances she's made for all women.

Sen. OBAMA: We've had our disagreements during this campaign, but we all admire her courage and her commitment and her perseverance. And no matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age, and for that we are grateful to her.

LIASSON: Obama barely mentions Clinton anymore on the campaign trail, other than to praise her for having been a formidable competitor. Instead, he's been focusing more and more on the candidate he sees as his real opponent.

Sen. OBAMA: Now, I will leave it up to the Senator McCain to explain to the American people whether his policies and positions represent long-held conviction or Washington calculations. But the one thing they don't represent is change.

LIASSON: In Louisville, Kentucky, a determined Senator Clinton celebrated her huge, 35-point blowout.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): It's not just Kentucky bluegrass that's music to my ears.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. CLINTON: It's the sound of your overwhelming vote of confidence even in the face of some pretty tough odds. Some have said your votes didn't matter, that this campaign was over, that allowing...

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. CLINTON: ...that allowing everyone to vote and every vote to count would somehow be a mistake, but that didn't stop you. You've never given up on me because you know I'll never give up on you.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Clinton said she would continue to fight for the nomination the only way she knows how - by never giving in.

Sen. CLINTON: I'm going to keep making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be.

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: In Kentucky, Clinton once again won huge majorities of white, working-class voters, the kind that have also eluded Obama in other states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And that's led Clinton to argue, as she did again last night, that she is the candidate who can win swing voters in swing states. But she also sent a message of reconciliation to her rival.

Sen. CLINTON: I commend Senator Obama and his supporters, and 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 in the fall.

LIASSON: Clinton gave no indication of when, if or how she might withdraw from the race. And although she knows the nomination is now a very long shot, winning as many delegates and popular votes as she can will help her make her case that she is the stronger nominee against McCain. But at this point, there are just not that many delegates left to win. Only three primaries remain: Puerto Rico on June 1st, and Montana and South Dakota on June 3rd. After that, the 200 or so superdelegates who are still uncommitted are expected to make their choice.

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
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.