ST PAUL, MINNESOTA - Barack Obama seized the Democratic nomination for president on Tuesday after a grueling, bitter battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton that was destined to make American history regardless of who emerged as the winner.
It took Obama - who 16 months ago began his efficient, fundraising powerhouse campaign - every primary and caucus that the Democrats had, as well as a last-minute push for uncommitted superdelegates, to defeat Clinton.
Obama now marches to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where he will officially become the country's first African-American presidential nominee.
Before a raucous crowd in St Paul, the same arena where Republicans will formally nominate John McCain for president in September, Obama praised Clinton for being a leader "who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment".
And, as has been his practice throughout the campaign, Obama, whose white mother was from Kansas and whose black father was Kenyan, only briefly referenced his new status in the nation's history, calling it a "historic journey".
Instead, he turned his attention to voters.
"Because of what you said, because you decided that change must come to Washington, because you believed that this year must be different from the rest, because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears, but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another - a journey that will bring a new and better day to America," said Obama, 46, to the ear-splitting cheers of about 17000 people who waited in long lines for hours to see the Illinois senator. There were another 15000 outside.
Then he quickly turned his attention to his new opponent, McCain, whose campaign has recently portrayed him as a change agent.
"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, as loud boos emanated from the crowd.
"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 - policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street and left our children with a mountain of debt."
Obama also fought back against McCain's criticism that he had not been to Iraq in two years.
"Maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy - cities in Michigan and Ohio and right here in Minnesota - he'd understand the kind of change that people are looking for," Obama said.
His 30-minute speech, which began with U2's Beautiful Day and ended with Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, capped a swirling final day of the primary season.
A steady flow of superdelegate endorsements, including former president Jimmy Carter's declaration that he would endorse Obama, pushed him closer and closer to the 2 118 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Even before the final two primaries - South Dakota, won by Clinton, and Montana, won by Obama - Obama was pushed over the top. The states had 31 delegates at stake. The national convention will be held at the end of August
In his speech Obama touched on a general list of changes he wants to make if elected president: rebuild the military; refocus efforts on al-Qaeda's leadership and Afghanistan and rally the world against terrorism and nuclear weapons, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease.
On Iraq he said the US "must be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in" though he did not offer specifics, and he noted that more than raw strength is needed in negotiating with other countries.
"Change is realising that meeting today's threats requires not just our fire power, but the power of our diplomacy - tough, direct diplomacy where the president of the US isn't afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for," he said, in what appeared to be an attempt to blunt attacks aimed at him for saying he would sit down with the leaders of some of the US's enemies.
The historic race between Obama, a black man, and Clinton, a white woman, broke primary and caucus turnout records. The last count indicating about 35 million people came out in total. It also pitted change against experience and revealed significant gender and racial rifts within the Democratic Party.
Obama received huge support from African-Americans and younger, more liberal, wealthier and more-educated voters. Clinton was backed by older, more blue-collar, Latino and female voters.
Obama extended an olive branch to Clinton supporters, asking them to come aboard his campaign "to chart a new course for America".
But he did not mention the possibility of tapping Clinton as his running mate. Earlier in the day, Clinton said she was open to the idea.
Obama's win, 45 years after Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, will probably be remembered as one of the significant moments in American political history, up there with the election of John F Kennedy, the first Catholic president; women's suffrage; the 15th Amendment's guarantee that all men have the right to vote and the civil-rights movement. - New York Times