Obama insists losses change nothing

"We have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning," the Illinois senator declares.

By Farhad Manjoo
Published March 5, 2008 5:46AM (EST)

Sen. Barack Obama barely cracked a smile during his brief speech tonight to a desultory crowd in San Antonio. He congratulated Hillary Clinton on her victories in Rhode Island and Ohio, though somewhat grudgingly -- there are still a lot of votes to be counted in Ohio, he said, "but it looks like she won there too." Texas, he said, was too close to call, and "we may not even know the final results till morning."

But Obama insisted that today's vote had done little to alter the fundamental character of the race: "No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination," he said.

And with that -- perhaps to underscore his idea that nothing had changed -- he shifted to a standard stump speech, making little mention of the day's contests. This being an Obama speech, there were, of course, moments of poetry and inspiration. Yet until the very end, it was also palpably downbeat. The crowd shouted "Yes we can," but you couldn't tell if they could.

Obama spent much of his time criticizing John McCain, though here and there he took aim at Clinton, too. "John McCain may claim a long history of straight talk and independent thinking -- and I respect that -- but in this campaign, he has fallen in line behind the very same policies that have ill-served America."

Near the end, Obama made a plea for a more high-minded, less negative campaign. "The world is paying attention to how we conduct ourselves," he said, noting that one of his campaign aides had a grandfather in Uganda who has been closely watching the race.

"You can call it many things," he said of his campaign's message of change, "but you can't call it empty. If I am the nominee of this party, I will not allow us to be distracted by the same politics that seeks to divide us with false charges and meaningless labels. In this campaign, we will not stand for the politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon."

He ended: "We say, we hope, we believe, yes we can."

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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