How Obama charted history

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Barack Obama’s history making feat, becoming the first black to claim the presidential nomination of a major political party in US, shows how far America has come since the end of slavery in 1865.

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But if it was a sure sign of racial progress, it also revealed a racial and gender divide that would be the next great challenge for the man who hopes to be America’s first black president after the November battle for the White House with Vietnam war veteran Republican John McCain.

Obama’s feat was all the more remarkable as he not only overcame racial prejudices within his Democratic party but also demolished the ambitions of a challenger who represented the most powerful family in Democratic politics.

When the Democratic race began a year ago, former first lady Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was considered inevitable by pollsters and pundits. But Obama robbed her of that aura in the very first primary at Iowa in January.

After that there was no looking back for him.

Elected to the US Senate in 2004 after eight years in the Illinois Senate, the 46-year-old Obama, son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, accomplished something that few thought possible when he began his candidacy in February 2007 against the heavily favoured Clinton.

Clinton, a second-term senator from New York, seemingly held all the advantages, including a vast network of fundraisers, a web of political supporters in virtually every state, and the allure of being able to restore to power a family that had given the Democrats control of the White House for eight years under her husband, Bill Clinton.

Obama proved to be an even more prodigious fundraiser, tapping the Internet as no candidate ever had to raise millions more than his rival, and also grabbed hold of a powerful movement of grass-roots supporters and volunteers who helped fuel his candidacy and provided a built-in base of organisation across the country.

He also tapped effectively into a hunger for change after eight years of the Bush administration and a highly unpopular war in Iraq. In a Democratic campaign that, initially at least, was cast as experience vs. change, Obama proved to have found the more powerful message.

Obama’s victory – and Clinton’s unexpected third-place finish – in the Iowa caucuses in January upended expectations for the nomination battle. It set the candidates on an epic battle that continued until the primaries came to an end Tuesday night.

With an 11-contest winning streak in mid-February, Obama built what turned out to be an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates, then held on in the campaign’s last three months as Clinton ticked off victories in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana.

Meanwhile, Obama effectively turned the tables on Clinton among the nearly 800 super delegates, party leaders and elected officials who hold the balance of power in a tight nomination race as they are not bound by primary results.

After Clinton built a substantial lead among that group in the early stages of the race, Obama steadily gained ground and then surged ahead with these party insiders. Once that began, Clinton’s hopes of winning the nomination effectively came to an end.

In the last two primaries, Obama won Montana but lost to Clinton in South Dakota, a continuation of the seesaw battle the two waged from the first caucuses in Iowa in January through more than 50 other contests.

The most closely contested Democratic nomination battle in the modern era came to a fitting conclusion in a day of extraordinary drama, frenzied speculation and fast-changing events Tuesday.

Obama’s campaign worked furiously to pressure uncommitted super delegates to endorse him, Clinton’s campaign struggled to provide her with time to leave the race on her own terms, and the media breathlessly sought to keep pace, as a leading daily put it.

Tuesday began with an unexpected report by the Associated Press that said Clinton would use her Tuesday night rally to concede. Campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe immediately went on CNN to deny the report.

Clinton then fought a rear-guard action, with her campaign officials pleading with super delegates and party leaders to give her the dignity of a graceful exit and an election-night rally in which she could celebrate her long campaign rather than concede to her rival.

The only remaining question was when – not whether – Clinton would step aside.

Some advisers, including former chief strategist Mark Penn, reportedly urged her to consider the full range of options, other than quitting outright. Others counselled her to consider her options – and her legacy. Aides cited by US media said the end is likely to come by week’s end but could be signalled as soon as Wednesday.