Obama on brink of Democratic nomination

WASHINGTON — It’s official: President Barack Obama will clinch the Democratic nomination for president Tuesday, ending a low-key primary race that many Americans probably didn’t realize was happening.

Obama is certain to reach the 2,778 delegates he needs to secure his party nod for a second time when five states vote on Tuesday. He has won almost every delegate so far, with a few exceptions in some Southern states that won’t vote Democratic in the fall anyway.

But don’t expect a big party, or any party. Campaign officials say they are focused on the general election, as they have been for months, and the all-but-certain Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

All this is a stark difference from four years ago.

At this time in 2008, Obama was still in an epic primary battle against Hillary Rodham Clinton. The fight for the nomination didn’t end until June, on the last day of the primary calendar, when Obama inched across the finish line on his way to the general election and eventually the White House.

There was a party that night, and why not? Obama was a big underdog heading into the 2008 primaries. Facing the well-financed former first lady, Obama was the junior senator from Illinois, a black man with a funny sounding name. No foreign policy experience. No military experience.

Obama’s resume may have been a bit thin, but he parlayed his compelling life story and an inspiring message of hope and change into an unlikely run for the Democratic nomination and victory over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The partying was intense that night in 2008 when Obama became the first black to win a major party nomination to run for president. Obama’s top campaign aides were in a Chicago bar near campaign headquarters. The candidate wasn’t there, but the bar tab was open.

“There are red shots, blue shots and green ones. I have no idea what I’m drinking, and don’t give a damn,” Jeff Berman, Obama’s 2008 delegate expert, wrote in his new book about the 2008 campaign, “The Magic Number.”

“Time after time, we lock arms, let out a yell, and send it down the hatch.”

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt was succinct when asked if the campaign was planning a similar celebration Tuesday night, after the primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island.

“No sir.”

This year, Obama’s march to the nomination has generated little interest because he has no major primary challenger, no one who made the ballot in more than a handful of states.

In Iowa, which gave Obama his first victory in January 2008, Democratic caucus-goers didn’t even vote for president this year. Instead, they held rallies to fire up supporters for the general election.

Democratic voters, however, are not unanimously behind the president.

In Oklahoma, anti-abortion protestor Randall Terry, who founded Operation Rescue, got 18 percent of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary March 6. That should have been good enough to win eight delegates, but state party officials said Terry didn’t follow party rules and was not a “bona fide Democrat.”

The delegates were awarded to Obama; Terry complained he was the victim of “political insider trading.”

In Alabama, 18 percent of Democratic voters voted for “uncommitted” in the March 13 primary, so the state party will send eight uncommitted delegates to the Democratic national convention.

Obama is unlikely to win Oklahoma or Alabama in the general election. Regardless, LaBolt said Obama’s campaign is busy building the largest grassroots operation ever.

“Now that we are on the doorstep of the general election, the choice Americans will have in November has already come into view: between a president who has fought every day to create jobs and restore economic security for the middle class, and a Republican nominee that would return to the same policies that led to the economic crisis,” LaBolt said.

Republicans have a different view, now that Obama has a record to run on.

“He was a blank slate four years ago, and people projected onto that blank slate their hopes for the future,” said John Ryder, a member of the Republican National Committee from Tennessee. “Now we’ve got a record. How’d that work out for you?”

Berman, who is not with the Obama campaign this year, said Obama may not be able to recapture the same magic he had in 2008, but he still has plenty of advantages.

“He can’t have what he had the first time,” Berman said in an interview. “But it’s not like he lost everything. They know where their people are, they just have to figure out how to motivate them.”

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