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Barack Obama Makes History, Promises Change

Senator Barack Obama has made history by becoming the first African-American to secure the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. To win the Democratic nomination, Obama has endured a grueling battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, the first woman to come this far in a presidential contest. Obama is now expected to take on Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, in a clash of generations and visions for the country's future. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother from Kansas, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, made history with these words to his jubilant supporters in Saint Paul, Minnesota Tuesday.

"Because of you, tonight, I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States," he said.

Obama's victory, which will not be final until the Democratic convention in August, is a true milestone, considering that racial segregation was legal in the United States until only a few decades ago. Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said Obama's nomination may, in fact, be unique across the world.

"Let's remember that there are very few countries in the world who have ever elected as president a member of a discriminated-against minority," he noted.

Sabato said Obama's historic victory is an achievement the United States can be proud of.

"I think it speaks to the fact that, in America you really do get an opportunity to do anything, if you have the talent and ability and you work hard enough," he added. "So, it's bound to improve the American image abroad. I think it improves the American image internally. I think Americans feel better about their country knowing, whether they are for Obama or not, that someone with his background can be in a position to become president."

If she had won the nomination, Hillary Clinton would have made history as the first woman to win the nomination of a major political party. Larry Sabato said the fact that Hillary Clinton is the wife of former President Bill Clinton may have been part of the problem for some voters, wary of having a succession of Clintons and Bushes in the White House.

"Americans had serious questions about the dynasty issue," he noted. "They wondered, even Democrats, liking the Clintons from the 1990's, wondered if it was really a good idea to give the presidency to just two families, passing it back and forth between 1989 and potentially 2017."

Howard Fineman, Newsweek magazine senior Washington correspondent, says Obama was able to defeat Clinton mainly because he tapped into a strong desire across the country for change, while Clinton emphasized her experience.

"So, the debate in the Democratic primary has really been about who is the better agent, the more convincing agent of change and the one more likely to win the election, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama," he explained. "So, it's a personality contest, but it is also one that has a deeply-rooted, fundamental concern, which is who can be the change agent."

At a time of economic uncertainly, an unpopular war in Iraq, and soaring gasoline prices, many Americans will be looking for change in November. Considering the ages of the candidates, with Obama, 46, and Republican John McCain, 71, the vote will also be about whether the country wants to usher in a new generation of leadership.

Many analysts say Obama's relative lack of experience is a legitimate issue, and one that he will have to address. Arizona Senator John McCain is a well-known and well-respected war hero, with years of foreign policy experience in the Senate. But he is expected to be challenged by the close links he has to President Bush and his support for the Iraq war, both deeply unpopular.

For her part, Hillary Clinton now faces the challenge of accepting defeat, after coming achingly close to winning. She has not conceded defeat, but will likely sit down with Obama at some point to discuss how to best heal the wounds of the long primary season and unite Democrats to face McCain in November. She has indicated she would be willing to serve as vice president, a decision that will now be made by Senator Obama.