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Obama shifts sights to McCain and the general election

The nomination isn't his yet, but his aim now is to unify Democrats.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 12, 2008

Town-hall event: Sen. Barack Obama greeted supporters Saturday at Summit High School in Bend, Ore., and held seven-week-old Carly Cameron.

Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian/AP

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WASHINGTON

Hillary who?

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OK, Barack Obama has not yet gone that far. But as the lengthy, tiring, roller-coaster race for the Democratic presidential nomination enters its (possible) homestretch, the senator from Illinois increasingly is ignoring the competitor from his own party to focus on presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

In part, this move likely is intended to be self-fulfilling. By behaving as if he has finally wrapped up the Democratic contest, Senator Obama may generate fresh excitement among his supporters and lure crucial superdelegates into his camp.

But it also probably reflects the Obama campaign's judgment of its actual position. The math is the math, and as the primaries dwindle to a precious few, Hillary Rodham Clinton's chance of winning the nomination has dwindled as well. It's time, perhaps, for Obama to take the first steps of his next long march – the one to November.

"It's going to be an incredible election," says Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, enthusing over the possibility of an Obama-McCain matchup. "One of the best ever."

Of course, the race for the Democratic nomination is not yet actually over. Senator Clinton may do well in upcoming primaries in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Even so, it is unlikely that she will be able to erase Obama's lead among pledged delegates by the end of the primary season. To win, she would need a large margin in so-called superdelegates, party leaders free to vote for whom they choose. But they have been trending Obama's way, and by some tallies he now leads in the superdelegate count.

"In terms of numbers, it's over," Professor Sabato says.

Campaigning in Oregon on May 10, Obama barely mentioned his Democratic rival. Instead, he began attempting to draw contrasts between himself and Senator McCain, saying that the Republican had received a "free pass" for weeks as the Democrats slugged it out in primaries across the country.

Obama said he would be open to meeting McCain in unscripted town-hall events. But in a preview of how hard-hitting such events might become, he said he might raise such issues as McCain's connection to the 1987 Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal. He also called McCain's proposal for a summer moratorium on the federal gasoline tax a "pander" that belies the Arizona senator's straight-talk image. "He didn't even have a way of paying for it," said Obama of the gas-tax proposal.

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