By Yang Qingchuan
WASHINGTON, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Though short of
declaring victory in the Democratic presidential nomination race, U.S. Senator
Barack Obama of Illinois is getting closer to the ultimate prize each day.
That is why he has largely ignored the results of the
remaining primaries and is looking beyond to November's contest with the
presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona.
For the same reason, Obama chose Iowa to make a
public speech Tuesday night even as he was competing with rival Senator Hillary
Clinton of New York in primaries in Kentucky and Oregon.
Iowa is a key battleground state that the Democrats
would love to win in November's general election.
Another sign that Obama has his sights focused on the
presidential race is that he has attacked McCain more frequently in recent days,
but had kinder and more reconciling words for Clinton.
A NEW MILESTONE
Although Clinton handily beat Obama in Kentucky and
did not do too badly in Oregon, the U.S. media focus is not on the primaries but
on a new milestone Obama has reached.
Obama has won the majority of the 3,253 pledged
delegates going to the national Democratic convention in August.
By picking up at least 14 of the 51 pledged delegates
in Kentucky, Obama has passed the threshold of the 1,627 delegates needed to
make that claim.
Pledged delegates are those won by the candidates in
the primary and caucus contests, as opposed to some 800 superdelegates, whose
votes are not tied to any primary or caucus results.
Superdelegates are Democratic governors, members of
Congress and party officials.
Winning the majority of the pledged delegates means
that although there are three contests left, Obama is already the choice of the
majority of Democrats in the country.
Combined with the number of superdelegates, Obama now
has 1,932total delegates, compared to Clinton's 1,753.
A candidate needs 2,026 delegates to win the
As Obama bags more superdelegates each day and can
still win dozens of pledged delegates in the three remaining primaries, he will
likely be able to reach the magic number of 2,026 on June 3, the last day of the
It is still premature for Obama to declare himself
the Democratic nominee at this point, but he is approaching that goal by nearly
He has won 32 of the past 53 Democratic primaries and
caucuses, versus Clinton's 21.
He has won more popular votes, as the votes in
Michigan and Florida are not counted in punishment for the two states' violation
of Democratic Party election rules.
Meanwhile, Obama continues to pull in the backing of
superdelegates, which is necessary to formally put him ahead in the Democratic
Among the superdelegates, many former Clinton
supporters are switching to Obama.
Even in national polls, he is expanding his lead
The latest Gallup poll shows Obama is currently
favored by 55 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, to
Clinton's 39 percent.
He also has a huge advantage in terms of campaign
Obama's campaign reported Tuesday the Illinois
senator raised more than 31 million U.S. dollars in April, with 37 million
dollars of cash on hand.
That is in sharp contrast to the 21-million-dollar
debt of the Clinton campaign, which is unwilling disclose how much cash is on
CHALLENGE TO UNITE THE PARTY
However, Obama still needs to reach out to Clinton
supporters to unite the party as quickly as possible before taking on his
The prolonged contest between the two candidates has
caused a rift in the party that will take time to close, as exit polls from
recent primaries shows.
In Kentucky, two-thirds of Clinton supporters said
they would vote for Republicans or not vote at all in the general election if
Clinton is not their party's nominee.
Of those, 41 percent said they would vote for
Republican candidate McCain and 23 percent said they would not vote at all.
Just 33 percent said they would back Obama in the
These numbers are even worse for Obama than in the
West Virginia primary one week ago, where just 36 percent of Clinton supporters
said they would back Obama.
Analysts say the right thing for Obama to do is to
give Clinton a graceful exit.
He extended an olive branch in his speech Tuesday,
congratulating Clinton for her victory in Kentucky.
The Obama camp also avoided demanding that she get
out of the race.
Simon Rosenberg, president of Democratic think tank
NDN, said: "Everybody in the Democratic family knows today that it's going to be
hard to put this party back together."
But whatever the challenges ahead, the Democrats have
a political landscape tilted in their favor.
U.S. voters are opposed to the Iraq war, alarmed
about the weak economy and convinced the country is headed in the wrong
"If the Democrats can't win with this deck of cards,
I'm not sure we should win," says Mark Siegel, a former official of the
Democratic National Committee.