Today's Papers

The End of the Beginning

All the papers lead with Sen. Barack Obama claiming the Democratic nomination yesterday. Everyone goes high with, either in the headline or the lead sentence, the historic nature of the news as Obama has now become the first black candidate to lead a major party ticket in a presidential contest. After what the New York Timescharacterizes as an “epic battle” with Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Los Angeles Timessays it seemed only “fitting” that the last two primaries of the five-month contest ended in a split. Obama won Montana, and Clinton came out ahead in South Dakota. But by the time the polls closed, the loss in South Dakota didn’t really matter because so many superdelegates had flocked to Obama throughout the day that he easily passed the magic number of 2,118 delegates needed to secure the nomination. “Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America,” Obama told a boisterous crowd of 17,000 supporters at a rally in Minnesota.

Obama’s victory was important, not just due to his unique background as the son of a Kenyan farmer and a white mother from Kansas but also because a “first-term Illinois senator defeated what had once been the most powerful machine in the party,” notes the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post echoes the sentiment and notes that “Clinton’s defeat seemed almost inconceivable a year ago as the race was beginning to unfold.” Clinton spoke at a rally in New York, where she praised her opponent but didn’t drop out of the race. “This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight,” she said. With those words, and increased speculation during the day that she might be interested in becoming Obama’s running mate, Clinton put herself squarely “at the top of the list of issues Obama must handle as the presumptive Democratic nominee,” says USA Today.

The LAT and NYT catch late-breaking news that Obama and Clinton  had a phone conversation early today. Obama’s spokesman said the presumptive Democratic nominee congratulated Clinton and once again told her he wants to “sit down when it makes sense for you.” The former first lady apparently thanked him for his call, but no date has been set for the sit-down.

After such a long process, it seemed almost appropriate that the end of the primary season brought “a day of extraordinary drama, frenzied speculation and fast-changing events,” notes the WP. “Obama’s campaign worked furiously to pressure uncommitted superdelegates 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.”

In a front-page piece, the WP points out that for those who have been following Clinton, last night “hardly seemed like an end to a losing campaign” as aides excitedly shared exit poll results with the crowd of supporters in New York. Despite rumors that swirled around throughout the day, Clinton was adamant in explaining that she’s not ready to drop out, though she did recognize that many are puzzled by her decision. “You know, I understand that a lot of people are asking, ‘What does Hillary want?’ ” a question she then answered by lifting items from her stump speech about health care and Iraq. (“Since all of us want those things, too, her real desire is actually to be the person who does it,” writes Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick. “Why doesn’t she just say that?”)

Earlier in the day, Clinton assured herself a spot at the table in the veep stakes by telling New York legislators that she would be “open” to joining a ticket with Obama. “Like her husband, Mrs. Clinton has a way of becoming the center of attention even when the spotlight is supposed to be trained elsewhere,” notes the NYT’s Adam Nagourney in a front-page analysis. While Obama seems eager to simply move into general-election mode, the truth is that he “still has problems in his own party that may overshadow everything else until he addresses them.” The LAT agrees in its own front-page analysis and points out that Obama must now work feverishly to “unify Democrats by reaching out to Clinton and her supporters.”

Obama will certainly face competition for the attention of Clinton supporters, as Sen. John McCain clearly has hopes of wooing disappointed Democrats who may be willing to vote Republican. The WSJ points out in a story inside that McCain will target three groups of voters who are particularly important in key swing states: “working-class Democrats, Jews and Hispanics.” Trying to claim a spot in the news cycle that otherwise belonged to Democrats, McCain gave a speech in Louisiana where he repeatedly criticized Obama’s inexperience and lavished praise on Clinton. “She deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received,” he said. “I am proud to call her my friend.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee seems to recognize the risk, and Slate’s John Dickerson points out, “If Clinton didn’t work very hard to build unity, Obama did.” He spent a significant chunk of time talking up Clinton and her accomplishments. “It was not just praise for Clinton, but an attempt to revive the Clinton brand,” writes Dickerson.

The Clinton question is hardly the only obstacle that candidate Obama will have to face. The LAT points out that in the end,  the long primary battle “could prove to have been good preparation for the clashes to come.” Despite the jubilant mood in Obama’s campaign yesterday, the loss in South Dakota provided a poignant reminder that Obama goes into the general election as a candidate with significant weaknessesthat may very well prove insurmountable. Obama certainly has the mood of the times behind his candidacy, as many expect that President Bush’s low approval ratings will translate into an easy Democratic victory. But repeated attacks on his youth and inexperience, not to mention his former church, could take a toll. So expect Obama to begin talking about policy issues in much more detail. “Republican attacks on him will be largely based on experience and ideology,” a Democratic strategist tells the LAT. “He needs to show that he’s tough enough and strong enough to guide the country in a dangerous world.”

USAT handily summarizes some of the tasks that lie ahead for Obama. He must step up efforts to reach out to key groups, particularly white voters and women without a college education, a move that will leave him with no choice but to deal with the issue of race. Obama must also consider whether he wants to plan a trip to Iraq and whether he should start releasing a new round of TV ads to counter McCain’s attacks.

The papers all assure us this is a historic moment, but if you’re feeling like it’s all rather anticlimactic, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. “That’s the thing about today’s prediction-driven media culture,” writes the Post’s Howard Kurtz. “If a thousand pundits declare that Hillary is toast, then by the time she is charred around the edges it hardly seems like news.” There’s been so much talk about Obama’s delegate lead that when he finally claimed the nomination yesterday, the news seemed to be greeted with yawns. “We’re not even limping,” a media analyst said, “we’re just dragging across the finish line, and everyone says, ‘Oh, okay, whatever.’ It feels redundant.”

One group that is probably relieved the primary race is over is the superdelegates, who will finally be able to pick up their ringing cell phones without having to worry that it might be a campaign surrogate on the other end of the line. The WP fronts a look at an undecided superdelegate, who suddenly found herself in the spotlight and (wisely) kept a journal chronicling the process. Neighbors screamed at her, she received e-mails and letters, and her phone just kept ringing. She received calls from all three Clintons, Terry McAuliffe, Obama, four senators, and four governors. Even Melissa Etheridge, an Obama supporter, called and offered backstage passes. “When [the campaign] asked me to call you, I said: ‘I can’t call a superdelegate. What am I going to say to a superdelegate?’ ” Etheridge said during a call. “[A]fter I read through your biography, I said, ‘Aha! They want the gay one to call the gay one.’ “

Meanwhile, Obama supporters who want to celebrate would be wise to leave the champagne aside and drink a good bottle of red wine instead. The NYT reports that a new study suggests red wine “may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan.”