Obama's challenge: unite the partyby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Barack Obama claimed the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night in St. Paul. He told a crowd of 17,000 thousand supporters at the Xcel Energy Center that the Democratic Party should come together and defeat Republican John McCain in November. Obama's key Minnesota supporters are now working to convince Hillary Clinton's backers to rally around Obama.
St. Paul, Minn. — After five months of campaigning, Barack Obama said the race for the Democratic nomination is over.
"Because of you, tonight I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States of America," he said.
The thousands of people inside of the Xcel Energy Center rose to their feet -- a sea of blue signs surrounding Obama.
Obama thanked his Democratic rivals, especially Hillary Clinton, for their campaigns. He then shifted his focus to the November election and his Republican rival John McCain.
Obama's appearance at the Xcel center comes just three months before McCain is scheduled to accept the GOP nomination at the very same spot. Obama said a McCain presidency would be a third term of George Bush's policies.
"It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time as he did in the Senate last year," he said. "It's not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well paying jobs or insure our workers or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has supported Obama since March, said Obama's speech signals a change in campaign strategy. She said Obama will work to highlight the policy differences with McCain over the next five months.
"They picked this place, one, because Minnesota is an important state in the election but also because this is where the Republicans are going to be holding the convention in this very hall," she said. "We're going to welcome them with open arms but I'm thinking this cheering is so loud that they'll hear it when they stop here in the hall."
After his speech, Klobuchar and Obama privately met with 20 of Clinton's key supporters in Minnesota.
Clinton did not drop out of the race on Tuesday, saying she would consult with supporters and party leaders to decide the future of her campaign.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who backed Clinton up until Tuesday, said he called several Clinton supporters to tell them it was time to shift their support to Obama. He said he thinks the party will be united in November.
"If you've been working for your entire adult life to elect a woman president and you felt that this is your moment, this is a hard loss," he said. "I think that we should respect that and understand it, but everyone I talk to truly understands that this is too important of an election to sit on the sidelines or to not do the right thing and come together as a party."
Republicans are also trying to convince Clinton supporters to consider backing John McCain in November.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who co-chairs McCain's presidential committee, said on Tuesday afternoon that it's good for Minnesota to get the attention of the national candidates. He predicted that Minnesotans will favor McCain's experience when they vote in November.
"Three or so years ago, Barack Obama was a state legislator," he said. "And before that I think the sum total of his leadership experience related to being a community organizer. Those are not normally the credentials you would associate that would next lead you to be the leader of the free world."
McCain is scheduled to be in Minnesota later this month for a fundraiser. Pawlenty said he expected McCain to also hold a public campaign appearance when he's in Minneapolis on June 19.