Attempting to lay a symbolic claim to his party's presidential nomination, Democrat Barack Obama will mark the latest round of primary voting with a rally in Iowa, where his solid win in January caucuses propelled him to his status as the front-runner.
Obama was campaigning Saturday for primaries Tuesday in Oregon and Kentucky as his aides announced the rally on primary night in Iowa, which they described as "a critical general election state that Democrats must win in November."
Rival Hillary Rodham Clinton has a strong lead in polls in Kentucky, but Obama has the advantage in Oregon.
Obama has built a solid lead in Democratic National Convention delegates over Clinton, and is working overtime to cast an image of inevitability to his campaign for the nomination. In recent days, he has spent more time focused on his differences with certain Republican nominee John McCain than sparring with Clinton.
Working on trust issue
While touring a hospital Saturday, Obama was asked by X-ray technician Ron Spooner, "How do I know that I can trust you?"
"The nice thing is we're going to have four more months, five more months of active campaigning where you can watch and see if I am consistent, do I stay honest," said Obama. "Let me take your advice and let me make sure that I try to stay honest in what is sometimes a dishonest profession."
Though health care was his theme of the day, Obama returned to a debate launched Friday with McCain on foreign policy. Both President Bush and McCain suggested that Democrats couldn't be trusted to be tough on terrorists, a charge Obama has rejected.
"The other side is going to keep calling us the same names, making the same cheap shots, using the same fear tactics they've used for the last four decades," said Obama.
Obama spoke to about 1,400 at a town hall meeting in Roseburg, arguing that McCain would merely follow a failed policy set by Bush.
"If you agree that we've had a great foreign policy over the last eight years, then you should vote for John McCain, you shouldn't vote for me," said Obama. "That's what this debate is all about, that's the choice in this election. Do you want more of the same or do you want change?"
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds argued that Obama's foreign policy shows "incredibly weak judgment. We're a nation rooted in a history of sacrifice and achievement, not in lofty campaign rhetoric or campaign promises."
Iowa: Swing state
Iowa has been a swing state in recent presidential elections. Democrat Al Gore narrowly carried the state in 2000, and President Bush collected the state's seven electoral votes by just over 10,000 votes in 2004. Since that time, however, Democrats have built a substantial edge in registered voters, and turnout in the January precinct caucuses was at record levels.
Obama will be joined by his wife, Michelle, for the Iowa rally, a homecoming of sorts for the couple. The rally is the latest effort by Obama to shift attention away from the primary season to the November election even though Clinton continues to maintain a full campaign schedule in primary states.
The last Democratic primaries are June 3 in Montana and South Dakota.
Clinton began the nomination race far better known than Obama, and was considered by many to be the likely nominee in the early days of the campaign. Obama countered that perception with an intense grass-roots campaign in Iowa that led to a surprisingly easy win. Though Clinton rebounded with a win in the New Hampshire primary, Obama has maintained his status as the front-runner.
The delegate hunt
Obama won't be able to capture the delegates needed to collect the party's nomination strictly through primaries — he also needs to increase his support from superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders who are delegates because of their positions. Clinton had led Obama in superdelegates through most of the year, but he recently overtook her and now leads 293 to 277 in the NBC News count.
Overall, Obama has 1,895 delegates to Clinton's 1,721 in the NBC News count, with 2,026 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Underscoring his shift to a general election strategy, Obama is heading to Florida next week — a key general election state where he has not yet campaigned.
The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates as punishment for moving up its primary to January, earlier than allowed by party rules.
Clinton, who did not campaign in the state either, won the Florida primary. She and Obama have been at odds over seating the state's delegation at the national convention in Denver in August.