Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 09:32 UK

Finishing line in sight for Obama

There is a growing sense of inevitability that Barack Obama will win the marathon Democratic nomination contest for the US presidency, despite Hillary Clinton's pledge to fight on, writes the BBC's Jonathan Beale.

Senator Barack Obama at a rally in Iowa on 20 May 2008
Barack Obama has won the most delegates in the primary contests so far

One day, soon - somebody (other than a few dozen journalists) - is going to declare that this contest is over. But not just yet.

Barack Obama appears to have the finishing line in sight. But as in Aesop's fable, Hillary Clinton still seems to believe that the tortoise can overtake the hare.

The latest results from Kentucky and Oregon were mostly a sideshow. All eyes were on Iowa to see what Senator Obama would say.

He had returned to the state that had given him his first win - almost five months ago - to make an important announcement.

'Consolation prizes'

In the end it was not a full declaration of victory, but not far off. He had claimed to have reached an important milestone. He now has an overall majority in the number of pledged delegates.

Hillary Clinton celebrates her Kentucky win at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, 20 May 2008
Mrs Clinton said she was winning the popular vote

The growing sense of inevitability was underlined by the adulation offered to his rival.

It almost sounded like he was handing out consolation prizes to Senator Clinton when he praised her perseverance and claimed that she had "shattered myths and broken barriers".

The fact that the personal attacks have disappeared from their speeches is just one more sign that this contest is all but over.

Another indicator is that Mr Obama is now focussing all his firepower on the Republican presumptive nominee, John McCain.

'Clutching at straws'

For Mrs Clinton a big win in Kentucky was more than a consolation prize. She also claimed it kept her on the path to winning the "popular vote".

The Clinton campaign is still counting the votes of Michigan and Florida - so far excluded from the contest because they broke the party rules.

She still hopes that the super-delegates (the party officials) will look at the states she has won - key swing states in a general election like Pennsylvania and Ohio - and join her campaign.

But it increasingly looks like she is clutching at straws.

Mr Obama now has a lead among those super-delegates who have already declared. The shift to him has grown from a trickle to a stream.

Add to that the latest financial figures: in April, Mr Obama once again raised more money than Mrs Clinton - his $31m to her $22m.

All the statistics appear to be going in his favour.

'On her own terms'

Both candidates are trying to show dignity as this contest draws to a close.

Mr Obama needs those Clinton supporters to rally around him.

His biggest worry - once again shown in Kentucky - is that he is not winning those white working class voters in significant numbers. Exit polls in Kentucky showed that only a third of those who supported Mrs Clinton would vote for Obama against Senator McCain.

In stark contrast, he need not worry about the college-educated white vote.

Oregon proved once again that the more affluent whites are coming out for Mr Obama in force.

Maybe Mrs Clinton really believes that she can still win this contest. Perhaps she is just waiting to declare a moral victory by having the votes of Florida and Michigan counted.

It is even possible that she is angling to be his running mate - though few seem to think it a likely outcome.

Whatever her motives for staying in this contest, there is a consensus that she deserves the chance to bow out on her own terms.

And we probably will not have to wait much longer. At the end of May, the Democratic Party should have decided what to do about Florida and Michigan. And in just two weeks' time the primary season will all be over.

Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
McCain - Republican
Select from the list below to view state level results.

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