It’s over! It’s finally over!

Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) split the last two primaries between them – he won MT 56 percent to 41 percent, she won SD 55 percent to 45 percent. Exit polling shows that in both states, voting blocs – white working class, older women, college educated – aligned themselves behind the candidates they previously favored – yada, yada, yada. But it is troubling nonetheless that even at this juncture – knowing full well that Obama would claim the nomination before the day was done – SD voters still gave Hillary a respectable 10-point margin of victory. Clearly, her supporters are signaling Hillary to keep pressing her case until the party’s convention in Denver. They haven’t given up on her, and they don’t want her to give up.

Ironically, it wasn’t the primary voters who decided which of the two candidates would get the “magic number” of delegates needed to clinch the nomination, it was party insiders:

[W]ith the help of superdelegates who declared their allegiance to Obama throughout the day, he easily crossed the threshold of 2,118 delegates needed to secure the nomination around the time polls had closed in Montana and South Dakota, closing off the last slender hope Clinton had to take away the nomination.   

Obama and McCain wasted no time squaring off, and laying out the lines of attack they plan to use against each other. Obama spoke at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN, where the Republican convention will be held in September. McCain spoke in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, LA, and was introduced by the state’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal, who is rumored to be on McCain’s veep list. (For his part, Jindal playfully “teased the crowd” about his Memorial Day visit to Sedona, AZ, for a barbecue with the McCains, reports The Times-Picayune: “I can tell you that secret now. John is a great cook.”)

The presumptive Dem nominee’s speech was vintage Obama (video link) – he used the word “change” 13 times, by The Stiletto’s rough count (“It’s not change when John McCain …”) – but the speech was beautifully crafted and well delivered, as always:

Tonight, after 54 hard-fought contests, our primary season has finally come to an end.

Sixteen months have passed since we first stood together on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Thousands of miles have been traveled. Millions of voices have been heard. And because of what you said—because you decided that change must come to Washington; because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest; because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another – a journey that will bring a new and better day to America. Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. …

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.

Obama was careful to give props to Hillary as a first step towards assuaging her supporters’ rage and defiance:

Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she’s a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight. …

Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And for the first time that The Stiletto can recall, Obama made sure to thank his white grandmother in Hawaii who “made me the man I am” – no doubt a reminder to white voters that he is half white, now that he needs to get the white working class votes Hillary was getting. (BTW, this bit was off-the cuff and does not appear in the prepared remarks his campaign released.)

The only stumble in the speech was this curious complaint about his general election opponent John McCain (R-AZ):

In just a few short months, the Republican Party will arrive in St. Paul … to nominate John McCain, a man who has served this country heroically. I honor that service, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. [Um, what, exactly would those accomplishments be – other than hiring a crackerjack campaign team that outmaneuvered Hillary for the nomination?]

And he warned McCain not to bring up certain “distractions”

[Y]ou don’t deserve is another election that’s governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won’t hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon – that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize.

The presumptive Republican nominee was not about to let Obama have the spotlight all to himself, not even on this historic night, so he gave an even longer speech (video link) and used the word “change” at least 17 times, by The Stiletto’s count. But while Obama’s speech was all sizzle, McCain’s was all red meat.

McCain, who wants to encourage Hillary’s women supporters to cross party lines in November – even if they are voting against Obama rather than for him – paid her homage:

Sen. Clinton has earned great respect for her tenacity and courage.

The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received.

As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am proud to call her my friend.

Then he got down to brass tacks (note how he subtly picks up Clinton’s argument that Obama did not win the popular vote):

Pundits and party elders have declared that Sen. Obama will be my opponent. He will be a formidable one. … [Emphasis, The Stiletto.]

This is, indeed, a “change” election. No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically.

But the choice is between the right change and the wrong change, between going forward and going backward. …

McCain also burnished his conservative, small government credentials, while also letting voters know that he is not ignorant of, or indifferent to, the economic pressures they face:

Americans have been experiencing a lot of change in their lives … job loss, failing schools, prohibitively expensive health care, pensions at risk, entitlement programs approaching bankruptcy, rising gas and food prices, to name a few.

But your government often acts as if it is completely unaware of the changes and hardships in your lives. And when government does take notice, often it only makes matters worse. …

The wrong change looks not to the future but to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will surely fail us again. I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought in to so many failed ideas. …

In just a few years in office, Sen. Obama has accumulated the most liberal voting record in the Senate. But the old, tired, big government policies he seeks to dust off and call new won’t work in a world that has changed dramatically since they were last tried and failed. That’s not change we can believe in.

And McCain signaled that Obama is not going to unilaterally determine the rules of engagement:

You will hear from my opponent’s campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that I’m running for President Bush’s third term. You will hear every policy of the president described as the Bush-McCain policy. …

[H]e tries to drum it into your minds … But the American people didn’t get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Sen. Obama [emphasis, The Stiletto].

They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem-solving. They’ve seen me put our country before any president, before any party, before any special interest, before my own interests. …

Both Sen. Obama and I promise we will end Washington’s stagnant, unproductive partisanship. But one of us has a record of working to do that, and one of us doesn’t.

Americans have seen me put aside partisan and personal interests to move this country forward. They haven’t seen Sen. Obama do the same.

For all his fine words and all his promise, he has never taken the hard but right course of risking his own interests for yours, of standing against the partisan rancor on his side to stand up for our country. He is an impressive man who makes a great first impression.

But he hasn’t been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters to bring real change to Washington. I have.

Finally, McCain defined the differences between Bush and himself:

We’ve disagreed over the conduct of the war in Iraq and the treatment of detainees, over out-of-control government spending and budget gimmicks, over energy policy and climate change, over defense spending that favored defense contractors over the public good. …

I called for the change in strategy that is now, at last, succeeding where the previous strategy had failed miserably.

I was criticized for doing so by Republicans. I was criticized by Democrats. I was criticized by the press. But I don’t answer to them. I answer to you.

Remember that scene in “A Bronx Tale” (video link) when the middle-aged Mafiosi beat the living daylights out of a bunch of young biker toughs who had invaded Sonny’s Bar? That’s what a McCain-Obama debate is going to look like.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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