In the afterglow of his big victory in North Carolina's primary and with the presidential nomination seemingly only 175 delegates away, Sen. Barack Obama predicted Thursday that he could win the votes of Democrats who support his rival Sen. Hillary Clinton.
And, in an interview with Brian Williams of NBC News, he did not summarily reject the notion of Clinton serving on the ticket as his vice presidential running mate.
When Williams asked Obama if he already was the presumptive Democratic nominee, the Illinois senator said, "Not yet. I will be if Senator Clinton decides not to go on, or if we complete these six contests and we are ahead as we are now. But nothing is certain, I don't want to take it for granted."
He continued, "Sen. Clinton has been written off before and came back, and she's a formidable candidate."
Obama's confidence about potentially winning over Clinton voters referred to opinion polling done in 2000 when Republicans John McCain and George Bush fought a fierce battle for their party’s nomination.
Obama said McCain supporters, disappointed after he lost the nomination, vowed they wouldn’t vote for Bush — but ultimately they did.
In exit poll interviews in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday, nearly one out of five voters said they’d choose McCain rather than Obama if the two men were to face each other on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Winning over voters
Obama said his campaign would embrace all voters, including those backing the former first lady.
“That doesn’t mean though that I don’t have lot of work to do if I end up being the nominee," he said, adding, "It's important for us to systematically reach out and describe for people — with as much specificity as possible — what, exactly an Obama presidency would mean."
“If I can say to people, 'Look, I might not have been your first choice, but here's how I'm going to allow you to send your kids to college, here's how I'm going to protect your pension, here's how I'm going to expand healthcare so you don't have to lose sleep at night trying to figure out whether or not you can afford to get sick,' then I think people will respond."
He predicted that it “won’t just be Democrats, it won't just be Clinton voters who will respond; I think there are a lot of independents out there are a lot of disaffected Republicans but also independents and dissaffected Republicans.”
Obama has claimed from the beginning of the campaign, even as early as January's Iowa caucuses, that he has been winning over Republican voters.
Remaking the electoral map
He said he would “remake the electoral map,” implying he would be more competitive that Democratic nominees John Kerry and Al Gore were in 2004 and in 2000 — particularly in states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Colorado, which they both failed to carry.
When Williams asked Obama whether he and his advisors had been having any discussions about declaring victory on May 20, the day of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries, Obama said, “That will be an important day. If at that point, we have the majority of pledged delegates, which is possible, then we can make a pretty strong claim that we've got the most runs and it's the ninth inning and we've won.”
As for the idea of Clinton being his vice president, Obama said, “There's no doubt that she is qualified to be vice president. There's no doubt that she's qualified to be president….I think anybody who has been in a political contest with her can tell you that she's no pushover."
Earlier in the day, Obama caused a stir on Capitol Hill by bringing his campaign directly to the floor of the House of Representatives.
Shepherded by two of his supporters, Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois and Rep. Steve Rothman of New Jersey, Obama walked through the chamber, chatting with House Democrats including a few of the undecided members.
Each of the House Democrats is an ex officio superdelegate with a vote at the convention.
'They need each other'
Before Obama's visit, one of Clinton’s House champions, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, said, “I’m not throwing in the towel. If it were anyone else, if Hillary Clinton were a ‘mere mortal’”, then the battle might be over. But, he said, her extraordinary skill as campaigner kept the contest going.
Whatever happens, McGovern said, “The person who finished number two is going to be just as important as the person who finished number one. They need each other to get across the finish line" in November.
While Obama was campaigning among the House superdelegates at the Capitol, Clinton was appealing to Democratic voters by holding rallies in West Virginia, which holds its primary next Tuesday. It is a state where Clinton is expected to perform well.
Msnbc.com's National Affairs Writer Tom Curry contributed to this story.