Barack Obama stepped to the brink of victory in the Democratic presidential race Tuesday night, defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Oregon primary and moving within 100 delegates of the total needed to claim the prize at the party convention this summer.
"You have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination," he told cheering supporters in Iowa, the overwhelmingly white state that launched him, a black, first-term senator from Illinois, on his improbable path to victory last January.
With about 30 per cent of the votes counted in Oregon's unique mail-in primary, Obama was gaining a 60 per cent share to 40 per cent for Clinton. Earlier, Obama lost Kentucky to Clinton by a lopsided margin of 65 per cent to 30 per cent.
Obama said the night's contests would give him a majority of the delegates elected in all 56 primaries and caucuses combined - as distinct from nearly 800 superdelegates, party leaders and elected officials, who hold the balance of power at the convention. "We still have work to do to in the remaining states, where we will compete for every delegate available," he said in an e-mail sent to supporters. "But tonight, I want to thank you for everything you have done to take us this far - farther than anyone predicted, expected or even believed possible."
Obama has already turned his attention to the general election campaign against Republican John McCain. Democratic party officials said discussions were under way to send Paul Tewes, a top Obama campaign aide, to the Democratic National Committee to oversee operations for the fall campaign.
Obama lavished praise on Clinton, his rival in a race unlike any other, and accused McCain of a campaign run by lobbyists. "You are Democrats who are tired of being divided, Republicans who no longer recognize the party that runs Washington, independents who are hungry for change," he said, speaking to a crowd on the grounds of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines as well as the millions around the country who will elect the nation's 44th president in November.
Clinton countered with a lopsided win in Kentucky, a victory with scant political value in a race moving inexorably in Obama's direction.
The former first lady vowed to remain in the race, telling supporters, "I'm more than determined than ever to see that every vote is cast and every ballot is counted.
In a fresh sign that their race was coming to an end, Clinton and Obama praised one another and pledged a united party for the general election.
"While we continue to go toe-to-toe for this nomination, we do see eye-to-eye when it comes to uniting our party to elect a Democratic president this fall," said Clinton, whose supporters Obama will need if he is to end eight years of Republican rule in the White House.
Clinton won at least 37 delegates in the two states and Obama won at least 23, according to an analysis of election returns by The Associated Press. All the Kentucky delegates were awarded, but there were still 43 to be allocated in Oregon, and Obama was in line for many of them.
He had 1,940 delegates overall, out of 2026 needed for the nomination. Clinton had 1,759 according the latest tally by the AP. The former first lady's lopsided victory in Kentucky underscored once more the work Obama has ahead if he is to win over her voters. Almost nine in 10 ballots were cast by whites, and Clinton was winning their support overwhelmingly. She defeated her rival among voters of all age groups and incomes, the college educated and non-college educated, self-described liberals, moderates and conservatives.