Barack Obama called his North Carolina primary win on Tuesday a victory against the "politics of division and the politics of distraction."
The Illinois senator claimed a strong victory in the Southern state to steady a campaign rocked by missteps and a hard-charging rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Obama told North Carolina supporters in Raleigh that he was able to overcome negative politicking that is all about scoring points and not about solving problems. He said Americans "aren't looking for more spin; they're looking for honest answers."
With his wife, Michelle, looking on, Obama savored his victory in North Carolina and called attention to claims by the Clinton campaign that the North Carolina race would be a "game-changer."
"But today, what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, DC.," said the first-term Illinois senator.
Before Clinton's apparent slim victory in Indiana became clear hours later, Obama said it appeared she had won there and acknowledged there were "bruised feelings on both sides" in the marathon fight for the Democratic nomination. "Each side desperately wants their candidate to win."
Still, he said, "This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country."
"We can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term," he said.
Obama's team had expected to win comfortably in North Carolina — after all, that's one reason they held their election-watch party here. But they also hoped for a come-from-behind win in Indiana, which nearly delivered. An Obama win in both states could have derailed Clinton's comeback chances.
Obama's forces sought to make as much as possible of the Obama victory in North Carolina, while turning their attention to upcoming contests in Oregon, West Virginia and Kentucky. He was returning to Chicago after the celebration.
Answering charges that he was having trouble winning in big states that will be important in the general election, Obama characterized his North Carolina win as "a victory in a big state, a swing state, and a state where we will compete to win if I am the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."
North Carolina is the nation's 10th largest state in population.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama was asked about the difficulty he has had in connecting with blue-collar workers, particularly white men, in states in the industrial Midwest like Indiana that will be important in the fall elections.
"It's really a mixed bag," he said. "There've been some states where we have won the blue-collar vote. Wisconsin. We won it in Iowa. We won it in Minnesota. Then there are other states where we've not done so well, mainly because people are much more familiar with Senator Clinton and President Clinton and their track record."
"You have to give them credit. They're the best established brand name in Democratic politics, maybe in politics overall. They've been on the scene for 20 years. They're not going to go down easy."
Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, conceded it had been "a pretty tough two or three weeks for the Obama campaign."
Obama stunned the party with early primary victories and helped undercut the aura of inevitability that Clinton brought into the race. He preached unity and put up what he said was his better judgment against Clinton's longer experience.
But as time wore on, and as Clinton won more big-state primaries that will be crucial to Democrats in Ohio — including New York, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania — enthusiasm toward Obama cooled.
And Obama's ties with inflammatory longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright and several missteps sowed doubts about his judgment.