Barack Obama declared himself "within reach" of the Democratic nomination Tuesday and celebrated in the state where his win in the opening contest of the presidential primary season helped reshape the race.
Speaking to some 6,000 supporters at an outdoor rally with the Iowa Statehouse as a backdrop, the Illinois senator pointed to a campaign where few gave him much of a chance of winning when he started the journey a year and a half ago. He is now the likely nominee.
"Tonight, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America," he said.
Obama split of pair of primaries Tuesday with Hillary Rodham Clinton. The former first lady bested him in Kentucky while he defeated her in Oregon, winning a majority of the delegates elected in all 56 primaries and caucuses combined.
Obama paid tribute to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who coasted to an overwhelming victory in the Kentucky primary Tuesday. But the tenor of his speech left little doubt that he has put the lengthy and hard fought contest against her behind him.
"The road here has been long and that is partly because we've traveled it with one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for the office," he said, speaking of the senator from New York and congratulating her on her Kentucky victory.
Obama scheduled the rally in Iowa instead of in one of the states holding a primary Tuesday as a way of "coming full circle" and launching the general election campaign in a place that is likely to be competitive come November.
When he launched the campaign, Obama was not as well known as Clinton, the former first lady who was considered the likely Democratic presidential nominee at the outset more than a year and a half ago. He chose to make a stand in Iowa, a black man from the urban streets of Chicago stumping for votes across a snowy, rural state with a tiny minority population.
But he combined an impressive field organization with eye-popping fundraising and relentless campaigning to score a solid win in the caucuses, while Clinton was left shocked by a third-place finish. Not only did he win, but momentum Obama's campaign generated was credited with a turnout of 240,000 that shattered all records, and has bolstered Democratic chances in November.
Clinton rallied days later to win the New Hampshire primary and regain some momentum. But Obama put together 11 consecutive primary and caucus victories that put him ahead of Clinton in the race for the delegates needed to win the nomination — and has kept him there.
"The same question that first led us to Iowa 15 months ago is the one that has brought us back here tonight," Obama said. "The question of whether this country, at this moment, will keep doing what we've been doing for four more years or whether we will take that different path.
"It is more of the same versus change," he said.
Tough campaign ahead
Obama warned of a tough campaign ahead against the Republicans and Arizona Sen. John McCain, their expected presidential nominee.
"They will play on our fears and out doubts and our divisions to distract us from what matters to you," Obama said. "Well, they can take the low road if they want, but it will not lead this country to a better place. And it will not work in this election. It won't work because you won't let it."
He sought unity within the Democratic Party, and with Clinton's supporters, as he looked ahead to the fall.
"No matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age, and for that we are grateful to her," Obama said. "Some may see the millions and millions of votes cast for each of us as evidence our parity is divided, but I see it as proof that we have never been more energized and united in our desire to take this country in a new direction."
He included a fair amount of nostalgia in his remarks.
"In the darkest days of the campaign, when we were dismissed by all the polls and pundits, I would come to Iowa and see that there was something happening here that the world did not yet understand," Obama said.