Last night, Barack Obama became the first African-American in American history to win a major party’s nomination for President. He did it on the last day of the primaries, just nudging out Senator Clinton, who after critical early losses finished with impressive victories that brought her extremely close to becoming the first woman to win the same honor. Both candidates have made history; both advanced our democracy.

It was fitting that each won a primary on the final night. I wrote months ago that no matter who won, the Democrats’ challenge was to conduct their campaigns in such a way as to leave no doubt that the country was prepared to have either/both break through their respective barriers. We are not there yet, but that outcome is still possible if the coming days and weeks are handled wisely.

In last night’s victory speeches both candidates took steps toward reconciling their respective supporters, two powerful coalitions that if combined would obliterate the Republicans and possibly redefine American politics for decades to come. Clinton’s speech may have been the best of her campaign, showing why her candidacy has inspired intense loyalty in recent months. She opened with this about Obama:

I want to start tonight by congratulating Senator Obama and his supporters on the extraordinary race that they have run. Senator Obama has inspired so many Americans to care about politics and empowered so many more to get involved, and our party and our democracy is stronger and more vibrant as a result. So, we are grateful, and it has been an honor to contest these primaries with him, just as it is an honor to call him my friend. And tonight, I would like all of us to take a moment to recognize him and his supporters for all they have accomplished.

And closed with this:

You know, I understand that a lot of people are asking, what does Hillary want? What does she want? Well, I want what I have always fought for in this whole campaign. I want to end the war in Iraq. I want to turn this economy around. I want health care for every American. I want every child to live up to his or her God-given potential, and I want the nearly 18 million Americans who voted for me to be respected, to be heard and no longer to be invisible.

In Obama’s speech, he paid tribute to all of the Democratic candidates as leaders of their party, and then added:

Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she’s a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight. I congratulate her on the victory she’s won in South Dakota, and I congratulate her on the race she has run throughout this contest.

We’ve certainly had our differences over the last sixteen months. But as someone who’s shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning – even in the face of tough odds – is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children’s Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as First Lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency – an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country, she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

[C&L has more. The full video will be here when available, and here for now (h/t TPM).]

John McCain’s campaign thought it was being clever by having him give a televised speech in the middle of last night’s Democratic primary coverage, hoping to detract from Obama’s — no, the nation’s — historic milestone. It was a total bust. Eli and Attaturk do the reviews. By putting an ashen-looking McCain in front of the cameras to read — sometimes sneer — through a petty, soulless speech, his handlers produced an embarrassing contrast to the more energetic Democrats. If McCain keeps this up, he’ll hand the Democrats the prize.

Update: FDL commenter barbara was in the St. Paul arena last night:

Got hooked up with a large African American group. A 26-year-old woman among them borrowed tissues from me. (Well, actually, I never expected to get them back.) She’d forgotten hers and she knew she was going to weep buckets when Obama spoke. Never dreamed she would see a black man in the Oval Office, maybe in her lifetime, but not so early on in her lifetime.

And check out "si, se puede cambiar" — h/t MarieRoget.

Photo of the Obamas by publik18