Coming Down to the Finish Line for a Race That Is About to Begin

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  This is  Shep O'Neal.

And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week our subject is the presidential campaign.


The seemingly endless campaign for the Democratic Party nomination is nearing an end. Only five states and the territory of Puerto Rico have yet to vote.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama moved closer to victory last Tuesday. A win by fourteen points in North Carolina increased his lead in delegates and the popular vote.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton had a two-point victory in Indiana, the other state that voted last Tuesday. Still, many political commentators declared the race over.

But speaking in Indiana, Hillary Clinton promised to continue her fight.

HILLARY CLINTON: "I am going to work my heart out in West Virginia and Kentucky this month and I intend to win them in November."

West Virginia will vote this Tuesday, then Kentucky and Oregon on May twentieth. The primary season ends on June third.

Barack Obama captured fifty-six percent of the North Carolina vote, led by his strong support among African-American voters. If elected, he would be America's first black president.

After the results were in, he talked about defeating Republican candidate John McCain in the general election.

BARACK OBAMA: "We can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term. We need change in America and that's why we will be united in November."

Hillary Clinton argues that she is the Democrat more likely to defeat John McCain in big and often unpredictable states. Her campaign has faced a shortage of money, and she has helped finance it lately with personal loans.

Hillary Clinton would be America's first female president. Her continued support among working-class white voters and older Americans helped her win Indiana. Nine out of ten black voters there and in North Carolina chose Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton could still win the nomination if delegate votes from Michigan and Florida are counted at the party's convention in August. The national party has refused to recognize those votes. The states held their primaries earlier than rules permitted. The party rules committee will meet on May thirty-first to decide what to do.

The hope is to avoid a divisive fight over the nominee at the convention. In the early nineteen eighties, the Democratic Party created superdelegates. These are party officials and elected office holders. One reason they were created was to avoid such fights.

The nearly eight hundred superdelegates are free to choose any candidate. Undecided superdelegates are under intense pressure from both campaigns. Their votes could decide the nominee in the coming weeks.


At forty-six, Barack Obama describes himself as a Washington outsider. His promises to work for change and unity have appealed especially to young voters and more-educated voters.

Hillary Clinton says he lacks experience while she is "ready to lead on day one." Senator Obama agrees that he has not spent many years learning the ways of Washington. But, he says, "I have been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change."

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas. Their marriage ended when he was two, and his father later returned to Kenya. Barack Obama spent part of his youth in Jakarta after his mother married an Indonesian man.

Although his father and stepfather were Muslim, and his middle name is Hussein, Barack Obama is Christian. He and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters.

He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He says his whole life has been about bridging racial divides and helping people work together. He was a community organizer in Chicago and an Illinois state senator. He entered the United States Senate in January of two thousand five.

Barack Obama recently broke ties with his former pastor of twenty years. Senator Obama denounced statements made by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

These included suggestions that American policies invited the two thousand one terrorist attacks on the United States. Reverend Wright also said the government may have developed the AIDS virus to use against blacks.

When asked about Reverend Wright, Hillary Clinton said some of his comments were offensive and outrageous. John McCain said he would not make it a campaign issue if Senator Obama is the Democratic nominee.

JOHN McCAIN: "Do I believe that Reverend Wright's comments were outrageous? Of course, so do all Americans. But it'll be a discussion that Senator Obama will have with the American people."

Political experts said the issue of Reverend Wright appeared to have little effect on Senator Obama in last week's primaries.


Hillary Rodham Clinton grew up in the Midwest, in Illinois. Her father owned a textile business. He was strict. He is said to have turned off the heat on cold winter nights to save money.

She graduated from Wellesley College and Yale Law School. Over the years, she has often worked on issues affecting women, children and those without health insurance.

Hillary Clinton is sixty years old. She was elected a senator from New York in two thousand, and re-elected in two thousand six.

She entered the presidential race as someone who, it was often said, most Americans either loved or hated. That reputation goes back to her eight years as first lady when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president.

Early on, he appointed her to lead a White House effort to reform the American health-care system. But the plan was unable to win congressional support.

In the Senate, she has been a strong critic of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war. But her vote to support military intervention angered some of the Democratic Party base. Barack Obama makes a campaign point that he has always opposed the war.

Recently Hillary Clinton was criticized for saying she faced sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia in nineteen ninety-six. She later said she was mistaken, after video of her arrival with her daughter, Chelsea, showed no sign of danger.

High energy prices and the economy are much bigger issues now than they were when the campaign began.

John McCain and Hillary Clinton both want to suspend a fuel tax this summer to help motorists save money. She would have oil companies pay for it. Barack Obama said the idea of a tax "holiday" was a political trick that would save little and could hurt road projects.


Senator John McCain of Arizona is in his second campaign for the White House. In two thousand, he lost the Republican Party nomination to George W. Bush. This time, he has had enough delegates since March to become the nominee at the party convention this September.

John McCain was born on an American base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father and grandfather were admirals in the United States Navy. He graduated from the Naval Academy and became a Navy pilot.

His plane was shot down over North Vietnam in nineteen sixty-seven during the Vietnam War. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war. He faced severe beatings, and returned home a national hero. He led the Navy's largest air squadron at the end of his twenty-two years of service.

John McCain's political message centers on national security.

Senator McCain says his war experience makes him uniquely qualified to be president. He supports President Bush's war policies and says he would keep troops in Iraq as long as needed.

President Bush has called the fourth-term senator a "true conservative." But some Republicans do not think John McCain is conservative enough. He is trying to appeal to conservative and independent voters.

If elected, he will be the oldest first-term president. John McCain will be seventy-two this August.

He faced criticism recently after his campaign released only his tax returns and not those of his wife, Cindy, a wealthy businesswoman. The McCains keep their personal finances separate. The Obamas and the Clintons released their tax returns. But Cindy McCain says this is an issue of privacy.


Our program was written by Brianna Blake and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus with Shep O'Neal.

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