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As Clinton fades, Obama begins to ready for race against McCain

Associated Press | 5/21/2008, 7:13 a.m.

BEND, Ore. — Barack Obama began sketching the outlines of his expected presidential contest against Republican John McCain, saying the fall election will be more about specific plans and priorities than about questions of political ideology or patriotism.

Barely mentioning Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama said he was open to campaigning with McCain in “town hall” events. McCain’s advisers have already said he would be open to holding such joint forums or unmoderated debates in which both candidates would take questions from voters.

Obama warned that he won’t stay away from controversial issues and he attacked McCain’s proposal for a temporary halt in the federal gasoline tax as a “pander.”

The turn toward campaigning against McCain and not Clinton came as Obama, who would be the nation’s first black president, surpassed Clinton last Saturday in the all-important count of superdelegates.

Superdelegates are the nearly 800 party and elected officials who will attend the Democratic national convention this August in Denver and are free to support whomever they choose, regardless of the primary results.

They are key because the Democratic race has been so close that neither Obama nor Clinton can win the nomination without them.

Clinton, who is vying to be the country’s first woman president, started the year with a lead of 169-63 among superdelegates. Now Obama has endorsements from 276 superdelegates, according to the latest tally by The Associated Press. Clinton has 271.5.

In the overall race for the nomination, Obama has 1,864.5 delegates and Clinton has 1,697, according to the latest AP tally; 2,025 are needed to secure the Democratic nomination at the party’s national convention.

In a sign of his new focus on McCain, Obama is beginning to campaign in states without upcoming primaries. He said he will soon visit Michigan and Florida, two battleground states whose Democratic primaries were essentially nullified by party disputes, and Tuesday was slated to visit Missouri for a campaign event focusing on economic issues.

During a campaign stop in Bend, Ore., which holds its primary May 20, Obama made sure to say that he had not won the nomination yet, but nonetheless entertained several questions about the likely outlines of a contest against McCain.