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Clinton Praises Obama But Doesn't Concede

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama arrives to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama arrives to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2008.
Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2008.

On the morning after the last Democratic primaries, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama heard himself introduced as the party's "presumptive" presidential nominee.

Obama spoke at the Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where he promised to keep the United States closely allied with Israel.

Following last night's primaries in South Dakota and Montana, Obama has enough delegates to secure the party's nomination, according to the Associated Press' delegate count.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton also spoke at AIPAC this morning, following Obama by just a few minutes. Clinton did not directly acknowledge Obama as the presumptive nominee.

The closest she came was to say, "I know Sen. Obama will be a good friend to Israel." She refrained from criticizing Obama, and in particular, she made no mention of Obama's controversial pledge to negotiate with Iran — an issue that came up frequently during foreign policy debates on the campaign trail.

Washington is watching Clinton closely for clues as to whether she will concede the race to Obama, and under what conditions. At her rally marking the end the primary season last night, Clinton said she was not yet ready to make a decision on her next step.

When asked by NPR this morning if he was disappointed by Clinton's tone, Obama said no. "I thought Sen. Clinton, you know, after a long-fought campaign, was understandably focused on her supporters," he said.

He said he spoke with her briefly today, and that they would be "having a conversation in the coming weeks."

Clinton may be holding out for an invitation to be Obama's running mate. Her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, said, "I think a lot of her supporters would like to see her on the ticket." The Obama camp denies any deal is in the works.

At AIPAC, Obama praised Clinton. Echoing the compliments he paid her at his victory celebration last night, he called her "an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party." But Obama also made a point of putting their rivalry in the past tense, saying, "I'm very proud to have competed against her."

Obama dedicated most of his speech to reassuring his pro-Israel audience that he shared its cause.

"I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security," Obama said. He also addressed the existence of e-mails questioning his support of Israel.

"They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president. Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama," he joked, "because he sounds pretty scary."

Obama has consistently trailed Clinton among Jewish voters, and he's been working hard in places such as Florida — the home of many Jewish retirees — to bolster his pro-Israel bona fides.

Addressing the sometimes contentious relationship between blacks and Jews, Obama recalled past cooperation. "In the great social movements in our country's history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder," Obama said. "They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together."

Obama also defended his policy of negotiating with Iran, saying he was calling for "tough diplomacy," with strong penalties for Iran if it develops nuclear weapons.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, is already treating Obama as his presumptive opponent. Today he repeated his criticism of what he calls Obama's "bad judgment on national security issues," and he once again called on Obama to join him for a series of "town hall" debates.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.