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Obama's N.C. Win Expands His Delegate Lead

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Hillary Clinton wasn't shut out yesterday. She won the state of Indiana, one of two primaries where she faced an intense contest. But Clinton won only narrowly in that state over Barack Obama, and on the same night that Obama carried North Carolina, decisively.

Clinton did not manage to change the game, which raises the question of how long the Democratic nomination contest will go on. We have two reports on that question, starting with NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: Senator Obama held his election night party in the state where he knew it would be a victory party. In a basketball field house at North Carolina State in Raleigh, he took to the stage early - 9:00 p.m.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Thank you so much. Thank you, North Carolina. Thank you.

GONYEA: And Obama did something unusual in his speech. With votes still being tallied in Indiana and the race there still way too close to call, he had this for his rival, Hillary Clinton:

Sen. OBAMA: I want to start by congratulating Senator Clinton on what appears to be her victory in the great state of Indiana. I want to thank all the people...

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. OBAMA: ...I want to thank all the wonderful people of Indiana who worked so hard on our behalf.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: Indiana did go to Clinton by 22,000 votes out of a more of a million cast, but for a while last night and very early into this morning, it appeared that perhaps Obama's concession had been premature. Still, Obama's speech signaled that for his campaign a big win in North Carolina along with a close contest in Indiana added up to a very good day for the frontrunner, especially given the past two weeks, which included the controversy over his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were as rough as he has had as a presidential candidate.

Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Campaign Strategist): I mean, I think that no one can deny that that was - you know, that story dominated the news at the beginning of the week at a time when we wanted to be talking about something else, and it wasn't helpful. And I think the fact that it did dominate the news and we've done as well as we've done tonight, it really says something about the durability of this candidacy.

GONYEA: Axelrod also said there's no denying the math. Obama's lead in delegates got larger again last night, and the odds against him losing that lead in the remaining six Democratic primaries are very long.

Obama, meanwhile, in his speech in Raleigh also spoke to what has been a major concern for many Democrats, that the brutal nomination fight and the divide within the party that it has revealed will hurt the party's chances of winning the White House in November.

Sen. OBAMA: Yes, there has been bruised feelings on both sides. Yes, each side desperately wants their candidate to win. But ultimately this race is not about Hillary Clinton, it's not about Barack Obama, it's not about John McCain. This election is about you, the American people.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Obama predicted a fully united Democratic Party come the fall and he hinted that he would soon be turning his attention to that fall campaign.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Raleigh, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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