History is made: Obama clinches; Clinton refuses to admit defeat

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois sealed the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, a historic step toward his once-improbable goal of becoming the nation’s first black president. Hillary Rodham Clinton maneuvered for the vice presidential spot on his fall ticket without conceding her own defeat.

Obama’s victory set up a five-month campaign with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a race between a 46-year-old opponent of the Iraq War and a 71-year-old former Vietnam prisoner of war and staunch supporter of the current U.S. military mission.

Both men promptly exchanged criticism over the war in Iraq and sought to claim the mantle of change in a country plainly tired of the status quo.

“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,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery in St. Paul.

“It’s not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs. … And it’s not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave young men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians.” In a symbolic move, he spoke in the same hall where McCain will accept the Republican nomination at his party’s convention in September.

McCain spoke first, in New Orleans, and he accused his younger rival of voting “to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job” in Iraq. It was a reference to 2007 legislation to pay for the Iraq war, a measure Obama opposed citing the lack of a timetable for withdrawing troops.

McCain agreed with Obama that the presidential race would focus on change. “But the choice is between the right change and the wrong change, between going forward and going backward,” he said.

One campaign began as another was ending.

Clinton won South Dakota on the final night of the primary season; Obama took Montana.

The former first lady praised her rival warmly in an appearance before supporters in New York. But she neither acknowledged Obama’s victory nor offered a concession of any sort.

Instead, she said she would spend the next few days determining “how to move forward with the best interests of our country and our party guiding my way.”