Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 2008 presidential election after a gruelling 16-month-long campaign. Mr. Obama and his rival Hillary Rodham Clinton evenly split the last two nominating contests held in Montana and South Dakota on June 3. There were fears that the party primaries and caucuses would end without either of the contenders being in a position to claim the support of half of the total delegates who will attend the Denver convention in August. In the event, Mr. Obama crossed the threshold with a majority of the super-delegates declaring for him. The primary task confronting the person aspiring to become the first African-American President is that of uniting his party. Ms Clinton’s hard-core supporters wanted her to carry the fight into the convention but she is unlikely to take their advice. She has strongly hinted that she would not decline should the presidential nominee offer to take her as the running mate. While some pundits consider this the dream ticket, others are not so sure. The sceptics think that the move could boomerang with the extreme fringe on either side rejecting the compromise and refusing to vote in the general election. Ms Clinton has also indicated that she could be brought around if Mr. Obama adopted some of her policy prescriptions. The indications are that he would prefer to follow such a course.

While the relentless, some would say ruthless, campaign waged by Ms Clinton has certainly toughened Mr. Obama, he still has some vulnerabilities to overcome. Even in the closing stages of the campaign he was unable to draw significant support from working class whites. This section of the electorate was considered a vital swing vote in previous elections and the Republican machine will try to capture it by campaigning on cultural issues. However, during the primaries, Mr. Obama displayed an impressive ability to attract new voters, especially the young. If he can galvanise those who are voting for the first time, he might be able to compensate for any erosion in the Democratic Party’s traditional base. The Republicans are also likely to probe for personal frailties, targeting in particular Mr. Obama’s lack of experience and contrasting his record with that of their seasoned nominee John McCain. The Democratic contender has tried to deflect criticism on this score by positioning himself as the candidate of change. Given the electorate’ disillusionment with the current Republican administration, Mr. Obama is on a good wicket when he portrays Mr. McCain as a person who is committed to George Bush’s policies.