DES MOINES, Iowa — Barack Obama took a major stride in the marathon campaign for the Democratic nomination Tuesday, winning in Oregon, locking up a majority of the elected delegates to the Democratic National Convention and declaring that the title is within his grasp.
The Illinois senator reached the milestone by winning some delegates in Kentucky even though he lost the statewide vote by more than 2-1, and more in Oregon, where he was declared the victor soon after voting closed.
Hillary Clinton remained unbowed, vowing to campaign on and pointing to her crushing win in Kentucky as evidence that at least some Democrats want the race to go on.
Now fewer than 100 votes short of clinching the nomination, Obama still needs to win unelected delegates, called super delegates, to win it. But he hoped they'd feel compelled to ratify the choices made by voters in caucuses and primaries, and he used a rally in Iowa, the scene of his first breakthrough victory four months ago, to drive the point home in dramatic fashion.
"You came out on a cold winter's night in January in numbers that this country has never seen, and you stood for change ... And because you did, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up," he told cheering supporters.
"And tonight ... we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for President of the United States."
He also offered what sounded like a valedictory to Clinton as he tried to nudge her out of the race.
"The road here has been long ... partly because we've traveled it with one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for this office," he said.
"We've had our disagreements during this campaign, but we all admire her courage, and her commitment and her perseverance. And no matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age."
Rather than criticize her, he attacked McCain as offering more of the same as President Bush on Iraq, taxes, health care and other issues.
Clinton refused to concede even as time was running out and a shrinking map offered fewer and fewer opportunities for her to overtake Obama.
Appearing before supporters in Louisville, Clinton insisted that she still has a shot at the nomination, and that she'll keep fighting for it.
"I'm going to continue making our case until we have a nominee, whoever she may be," she said to whoops and cheers.
She vowed to campaign on in the last three venues to vote — Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana — and to fight to change party rules to seat disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan.
Mindful that Obama was claiming a majority of elected delegates, she insisted that she remained in the hunt for unelected delegates, and she made one more argument for their support, claiming that she leads Obama in the nationwide popular vote.
"We're winning the popular vote. And I'm more determined than ever to see that every vote is cast and every ballot counted," she said. "More people have voted for me than anyone who's ever run for the Democratic nomination."
Although she won Kentucky by 250,000 votes, Obama was gaining in Oregon, and her overall claim is shaky at best.
With all of Kentucky and some of Oregon counted, Obama still led in the popular vote by a margin of between 403,000 and 513,000, according to a tally by the Web site www.realclearpolitics.com. The larger figure includes estimates from four caucus states — Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington — that don't release official vote totals.
He also led if the vote in Florida were added, though by smaller margins because Clinton won that unofficial vote.
Clinton led only if the popular vote from both Florida and Michigan were counted. Obama's name was not on the Michigan ballot.
Clinton also appealed for contributions to keep it running. Her campaign Tuesday reported its second best fund raising month ever, $22 million.
Obama's campaign also released new figures showing that he raised another $31 million April and has $37 million in the bank for the remainder of the primary fight.
Despite his advantage, the results Tuesday again pointed to challenges for Obama, particularly in Kentucky, a state that Bill Clinton won twice.
Nearly half the Democratic primary voters Tuesday said they wouldn't vote for Obama in the fall. A poll released last week by the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT television showed that neither candidate would beat Republican John McCain in the fall.
There were other continuing warning signs for Obama in Kentucky, some of them echoing the problems he's faced in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia.
He did worst among white working class voters, those with lower incomes and less than college education. Also, one out of five Democratic primary voters in Kentucky said the race of the candidate was important. They broke for Clinton by better than 5-1.
With some of Tuesday's delegates counted, Obama had 1,940 — elected and unelected — of the 2,026 needed for the nomination, according to the Associated Press tally. Clinton had 1,759.
After Tuesday, there will be just 86 delegates left to be awarded in primaries: 55 in Puerto Rico on June 1; 15 in South Dakota on June 3, and 16 in Montana on June 3.
Fewer than 200 unelected superdelegates also have yet to say whom they'll support.
Clinton's next battlefield is Florida — where she travels Wednesday to underscore her quest to have the party reverse itself and seat delegates from the state's renegade unofficial primary on Jan. 29. Obama also is campaigning in Florida this week.
Most of Clinton's hopes now rest on a May 31 meeting of the Democratic National Committee's Rules Committee, which will hear challenges from Florida and Michigan to seat half their delegates.
The DNC — with Clinton's support — decided last year to strip both states of their delegates when they scheduled primaries earlier than allowed by party rules.
Thomma reported from Washington; Talev reported from Des Moines, Iowa.