Page last updated at 04:45 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 05:45 UK

Decisive victory a relief for Obama

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Raleigh, North Carolina

Barack Obama speaks in North Carolina
Mr Obama treated the crowd to a powerful performance
Barack Obama always looks at home on the basketball court.

He shoots a mean hoop, as we saw in carefully-staged television pictures released a few weeks ago to show that he's a regular guy, and not one of those Gucci-wearing, latte-sipping elitists we hear so much about.

And his best rhetorical performances on the campaign tend to have come in university sports arenas, whose packed benches and echoing ceilings produce the pumping, energised atmosphere that allows his rhetoric to soar.

In Raleigh, North Carolina - home of the NC State Wolfpack - he was once again on electrifying form after two rocky weeks in which much of the lustre seemed to come off his campaign.

There was the scandal over his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, the leaking of his remarks about the "bitter" mood of small-town voters and there was of course, defeat in Pennsylvania.

Stars and Stripes

It is a familiar scene by now.

Behind the stage, in the seats which will appear behind the candidate on network television, the event organisers ensure that there is a mix of voters chosen to emphasise the ethnic and gender diversity of the Obama appeal.

A row of television reporters stand with their back to the stage, gamely broadcasting in the middle of the hurricane of noise which the event generates.

American television salaries are huge - presumably reflecting the difficulty of recruiting and retaining the kind of people who can explain the complexities of the Democratic nomination system while the PA system beside them plays old Jackson Five tracks at a volume which makes the liquid inside their eyeballs tremble.

He seemed like a man relieved that tonight did not deliver the setback he must have feared

The crowd in Raleigh was smaller than some of the audiences Mr Obama has gathered for other victory celebrations, but it was treated to a vintage performance.

The candidate subtly answered insidious charges about his lack of patriotism - partly based on the antics of his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright - by reminding us that his white grandfather was a World War II veteran who was buried with the Stars and Stripes draped over his coffin.

And he appeared to look forward to November's general election too, talking about how the "party of Roosevelt and Kennedy" would need to position itself to fight the Republicans.

Was it the speech of a man who is starting to believe he is going to win the nomination?

I would say that it was, and that was the view of the people I watched it with too.

The truth is that Indiana and North Carolina were the last two states on offer which send really significant numbers of delegates to the summer nominating conference - if Hillary Clinton was going to catch Obama she would have needed to do much better tonight.

The states that remain - like Oregon and West Virginia - are too small to make much of a difference.

More argument

She will fight on, though, arguing that the party should now take account of the votes cast in Florida and Michigan, states which had all of their delegates docked by the national party leadership for bringing their primaries forward earlier in the year.

No-one campaigned there (Mr Obama was not on Michigan's ballot paper) but she polled rather well and those votes would certainly help her now.

Expect much more argument on that issue before a deal is done.

Tonight was not a clincher but looking at Barack Obama on stage I thought he seemed like a man relieved that tonight did not deliver the setback he must have feared.

There is a long way to go, but Mr Obama sounded as though he has begun to lift his eyes from the primary campaign to contemplate the challenges beyond.

Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
McCain - Republican
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