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What Obama proved, so far

His claim as a change agent passed a test in beating the 'inevitable.' Now for the next test.

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With just enough delegates to claim his party's nomination, Barack Obama has also made a second claim: That he has proved he can achieve change, not just talk about it. He beat the once "inevitable" front-runner of the Democratic establishment. But only barely.

And that leaves Hillary Clinton, or at least her legacy in inspiring women and blue-collar voters, as the next challenge for Mr. Obama and his assertion of being an agent of change. Can he graciously find a role for her and unite a party that just fought a very long primary contest, one that revealed sharp divisions of gender, race, and class?

The answer may lie in one reason for his historic upset. He tried to change the nature of campaigning, from one of personal smears, a-slap-for-a-slap, and chameleon-like pandering to a more elevated tone. Again, though, he only barely succeeded in doing that against the Clinton camp's old-style politicking. Normally cool under fire, he often retaliated when he didn't need to.

Still, his message of political conciliation hit a mood among Democrats and independents who want to tone down the super-partisanship of Washington. How did he know this? He kept his ear close to the party's roots. He traveled the country widely in 2006, developed an Internet strategy and, like a startup airline, he targeted the places that the dominant candidate ignored, the smaller states. He touched an enthusiasm among activists who showed up strong in caucuses.

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