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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.

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On May 10, the Obama campaign also announced the beginning of what it said would be a 50-state voter-registration drive in advance of the November elections.

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That is the sort of unifying gesture that Obama needs to make if he indeed becomes the nominee, says Allan Lichtman, a political history professor at American University in Washington. With the Republican nominee burdened by association with an unpopular war, economic woes, and an incumbent with high disapproval ratings, "only a failure to unify can derail the Democratic ticket this year," Professor Lichtman says.

Obama also needs to work on his class problem, adds Gerald Pomper, Board of Governors professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. That means he must figure out a way to better attract the white working-class voters who have made up the core of Clinton's support.

While some in the party might dream of an Obama-Clinton ticket, in cold political terms Clinton as a vice-presidential candidate makes little sense, Professor Pomper says. The state she represents in the Senate, New York, already is likely to vote Democratic. Nationally, women also are likely to tend to the Democratic Party.

Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia might be a better VP pick for Obama, Pomper says. As a Vietnam veteran, Annapolis graduate, and former secretary of the Navy, Senator Webb would provide national-security credentials that Obama lacks.

Finally, say experts, Obama must also try to regain the image he projected prior to the imbroglio over his past association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. "He must repolish his image as a unifying, creative leader," Lichtman says.

Of course, the Republican Party is likely to use such things as the controversies over Mr. Wright to try to define Obama as a politician who is out of the US mainstream.

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.