WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama neared victory in the Democratic presidential race Monday on the eve of a final pair of primaries amid signs that Hillary Rodham Clinton was preparing to acknowledge defeat.
Said a confident-sounding Obama: "I told her that once the dust settled I'm looking forward to meeting with her at a time and place of her choosing." That was from a conversation the two rivals had Sunday night. He did not describe her response.
He also said he would begin thinking about a vice presidential running mate "the day after I have gotten that last delegate needed to officially claim the nomination."
The former first lady gave no public hint of quitting the race, and she has said repeatedly she might continue her candidacy even beyond the end of the primaries.
But her husband, former president Clinton, suggested otherwise. "This may be the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind," he said as he worked for his wife in South Dakota.
Obama was 41.5 delegates shy of the 2,118, needed to clinch the nomination at the party's convention in Denver, according to The Associated Press count. He gained 5.5 delegates during the day Monday, including Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the House leadership who scheduled a formal announcement today.
Obama's aides prodded uncommitted lawmakers and other party officials to climb on board quickly as Clinton struggled to hold back the tide.
Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, who is uncommitted, said Obama's goal was to be in position to seal the nomination tonight, once the votes are tallied and delegates awarded from primaries in Montana and South Dakota.
Clinton was not far behind Obama in delegates. She had 1917.5 after adding two during the day.
The former first lady campaigned into the night in South Dakota, scratching for a primary triumph that could somehow persuade uncommitted superdelegates to back her, before heading home to New York for a post-primary appearance tonight.
"I'm just very grateful we kept this campaign going until South Dakota would have the last word," she said at a restaurant in Rapid City.
Obama looked ahead to the general election by campaigning in Michigan, a likely battleground state in the fall campaign.
He said that when he called Clinton on Sunday to congratulate her on her Puerto Rico primary victory, he broached the topic of a meeting.
"The sooner we can bring the party together, the sooner we can focus on John McCain and taking back the White House," he said.
Obama stopped short of a flat prediction that he would be able to claim victory tonight when the delegates were allocated after the day's primaries. But he said, "It is my sense that between Tuesday and Wednesday we have a good chance of getting that number of delegates" needed for victory.