Image: Obama
Rick Wilking  /  Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama
updated 5/31/2008 10:14:27 PM ET 2008-06-01T02:14:27

Barack Obama selected St. Paul, Minn., where Republicans will hold their convention, as the site for a rally Tuesday night marking the end of primary season in the drawn-out Democratic presidential contest. The decision to hold the rally on symbolic GOP turf telegraphed his confidence that the Democratic nomination was already his.

The decision was announced on Saturday even as Democrats wrangled in Washington, D.C., over rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's quest to have seated disallowed delegates she won in Florida and Michigan.

"It's the place where John McCain will accept the nomination. It's a good place for us to kick off the next phase of the campaign," Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, said in an interview.

Minnesota was a swing state that eventually went for Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

And while no Republican presidential candidate has carried Minnesota since Richard Nixon in 1972, Republicans see opportunities this year in Minnesota and other electoral-rich bastions that Democrats won in 2004 including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

They cite Obama's vulnerabilities with key traditionally Democratic demographic groups and McCain's reputation as an independent thinker.

Obama is 42 delegates shy of winning the nomination. He is poised to draw even closer by the end of the weekend. A party committee is working Saturday to determine how to allocate delegates from Florida and Michigan. On Sunday, Puerto Rico holds its primary.

Obama's campaign announced Saturday that the Minnesota rally with Obama and his wife, Michelle, is set for the Xcel Energy Center, site of the GOP convention beginning Sept. 1.

Clinton, who was campaigning in Puerto Rico on Saturday, trails Obama by about 200 delegates.

"Minnesota is an important battleground state," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "The McCain campaign has made it clear they will compete there aggressively. We will too."

GOP reaction
Reacting to the Obama rally plans, GOP convention spokesman Matt Burns said, "We remain focused on planning the best possible convention — where Senator McCain will share his positive vision with the American people and, once again, show why he is the best person to lead our nation forward. We look forward to welcoming Senator McCain to St. Paul in September."

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Obama made only passing reference to the drama unfolding in Washington over the seating of Florida and Michigan delegates.

"We're going to come together," he said at a town hall meeting in Rapid City. He praised Clinton's spirited challenge and said, "She is going to be working on behalf of the Democratic party."

He pressed his criticism of McCain's support for keeping forces in Iraq.

"The disturbing thing is that we've seen this movie before — a leader who pursues the wrong course, who is unwilling to change course, who ignores the evidence. Now, just like George Bush, John McCain is refusing to admit that he made a mistake," Obama said.

Obama cited new allegations of White House deceit in a book by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan.

McClellan's account showed that "the president hyped the threat from Saddam Hussein before the war ... and when he was presented with facts, he refused to admit that he made a mistake," Obama said.

Fighting words
The McCain and Obama camps have been sparing over McCain's remarks earlier in the week that "we have drawn down to pre-surge levels" in Iraq.

In fact, U.S. troop levels are not yet down to levels before President Bush's troop increase last year. Before the increase, there were 130,000-135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. As of this week, that number was 155,000, and the Pentagon plans to drop that to 140,000 by the end of July.

McCain insisted Friday that he didn't misspeak. "I've said we've drawn down ... The rest of them will be home at the end of July," he said.

Minnesota voters would prefer either Obama or Clinton over McCain for president, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota poll earlier this month.

Obama, D-Ill., leads McCain, R-Ariz., 51 percent to 38 percent among the registered Minnesota voters polled, while Clinton, D-N.Y., leads McCain 49 percent to 40 percent, the newspaper reported.

Obama spent the day campaigning in South Dakota. He also planned a town hall meeting in Aberdeen later Saturday before flying to Sioux Falls.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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