Barack Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, became the first African-American ever nominated for president by a major political party after delegates to the Democratic National Convention chose him as their standard-bearer Wednesday.
The nomination process, a subject of debate and speculation right up until the voting began late in the afternoon, ended when Obama’s chief rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, asked her supporters to join in accepting Obama’s historic nomination by acclamation.
Illinois passed when its turn in the order came up so it could yield to New York. The hall erupted in cheers as Clinton approached the microphone.
“With eyes firmly fixed on the future, in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory, with faith in our party and our country, let’s declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president,” Clinton said, setting off a loud celebration at the hall in Denver as Obama’s nomination became official.
Chants of “Obama, Obama” rang out when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the convention’s chairwoman, reported that Obama had accepted the nomination.
Carter, Lewis hail milestone
Veteran Democrats welcomed Obama’s nomination as an important shattering of the ultimate racial barrier in America.
“I’ve lived in a state that has been blighted by racial discrimination,” former President Jimmy Carter, who was governor of Georgia in the early 1970s, said in an interview with MSNBC. “Since then, the Deep South has been dominated by the Republican Party using the race issue as a subtle and sometimes overt racial appeal.
“To me, this is a momentous event for America and has the prospect of being a momentous event for the entire world,” Carter added.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an icon of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, wrestled with his emotions in an interview with NBC News’ David Gregory.
“I’m more than happy to see the large number of young people ... that are not African-American — they are white — saying to their grandfathers, to their grandmothers, ‘You must vote for Barack Obama,’” said Lewis, who backed Clinton in the primary campaign before throwing his support to Obama.
“Barack Obama is not an African-American nominee. He is the Democratic nominee for president of the United States,” Lewis said. “That’s what this struggle was all about — to create one America, one house and that is what Barack Obama represents.”
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Lewis choked up and added simply: “We must make the dream real. We must make it real. I think it will be real.”
After convention, off to the battleground
Obama landed in Denver just as Day 3 of the convention opened at 5 p.m. ET. Aides said he might drop by the hall later in the evening to thank the delegates, but his formal acceptance was not scheduled until Thursday night at nearby Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.
Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, said Obama was still refining his speech, which he was writing himself. The speech will make a “clear and direct” case about the risks of choosing the presumed Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whom Obama will “not shy away from attacking,” Axelrod said.
Then, on Friday, Obama, his wife, Michelle, will be joined by the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, and his wife, Jill, on a bus tour of the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.
Biden was to address the convention later Wednesday night, as was former President Bill Clinton, whose support for Obama has seemed tepid at best. Earlier this month, the former president sidestepped a question on whether Obama was prepared for the White House. “You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president,” Clinton told ABC News.
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told NBC News that he expected the speeches by Biden, Bill Clinton and Obama to propel the Democrats into the fall campaign.
Dean said it was “an absolutely fair point to make” that many Americans did not know Obama well enough to feel comfortable voting for him.
“That’s our big task,” Dean said — to explain to voters “why Barack Obama should be president.”
Clinton steers backers to Obama
Obama claimed his nomination after weeks of speculation over just how enthusiastically the Clintons would back him following a contentious and closely contested primary campaign.
Hillary Clinton answered skeptics by delivering a stemwinding endorsement of Obama in her convention speech Tuesday night. She met with her delegates in Wednesday afternoon and said she had signed her ballot for Obama, drawing some cheers and some moans of dismay.
The groans then turned into cheers when she acknowledged that “many other people who sign their ballots will make a different choice.”
“We got here by different paths,” Clinton said. “And you are to be given the respect and recognition you have earned as delegates for the Democratic Party.”
Kathleen Krehbiel, Clinton’s delegate counter in Iowa, credited Clinton’s speech Tuesday night with persuading her to cross the line and vote for Obama.
“My horse is out of the race. I’m getting out to work for Obama,” Krehbiel said. But, she added, “I think there are a few delegates who need to vote for Hillary to reach that point of closure.”
Tom Brokaw, Lee Cowan and Carrie Dann of NBC News contributed to this report.