By just about every measurement, the Democratic presidential nominating battle broke records.
There were 56 contested primaries and caucuses, more money raised than ever before, and the biggest voter turnout in Democratic Party history.
As Sen. Barack Obama begins his journey as the first African-American candidate to head a major-party presidential ticket, it's worth revisiting the series of events that led to his historic nomination — and to his rival Sen. Hillary Clinton's epic reversal of fortune.
'It's Going to Be Very Interesting'
It all began on a frigid February day in 2007, when Obama stood in front of the state capitol building in Springfield, Ill., to declare his presidential ambitions.
"Where Lincoln once called on a house divided to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for the United States of America," he said.
Just 3 1/2 years after his election to the Illinois state Senate, and just two years after entering the U.S. Senate, Obama had morphed into a political celebrity. His electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, along with his best-selling autobiography, made him a phenomenon. But at that moment in February, he was also the underdog.
The Democratic race had a dominant figure: front-runner and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and half of the most powerful couple in the Democratic Party. She had begun her campaign a few weeks earlier, with a homey Web video shot in her living room in Chappaqua, N.Y.
"Let the conversation begin. I have a feeling that it's going to be very interesting," Clinton said in the video.
The race has been interesting — although not in the way Clinton had hoped.
Clinton's Candidacy: From Inevitable to Faltering
For a long time, Clinton had a huge lead in the polls and more money and more endorsements than anyone else. She stood out in debates and looked like a commander in chief, while Obama was still trying to get his sea legs.
In July 2007, at the YouTube debate in South Carolina, the candidates were asked whether they would hold direct talks with the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba in their first year as president. Obama said that he would: "The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration — is ridiculous."
Clinton, in contrast, promised a vigorous diplomatic effort but no face-to-face meetings with these leaders. "I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year," she said.
But Clinton's dominance in debates and her aura of inevitability began to crack at an October debate in Philadelphia, where she seemed to say she was both for and against giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses — a plan proposed by then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
"What is the governor supposed to do?" Clinton said of Spitzer's proposal. "He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed," she said. Then she added, "Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No."
Her opponents pounced. John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, who was then pursuing the Democratic nomination, accused Clinton of saying "two different things in the course of about two minutes."
Mapping Obama's First Victories
The first big change in the dynamic of the Democratic race came in Iowa, where Obama won big. Clinton came in a disappointing third, behind Edwards. Then it was on to New Hampshire, where Obama, overconfident, slipped up in a debate.
When Clinton was asked why voters seemed to like Obama more, she said that he was very "likable" but that she didn't think she was "that bad."
"You're likable enough, Hillary," Obama said — a response widely criticized as condescending.
Two days later, female voters rallied to Clinton's side after she teared up in a coffee shop in Portsmouth, N.H. "This is personal for me," she said, when asked how she kept herself so pulled together on the campaign trail.
Clinton won New Hampshire but went on to lose South Carolina to Obama by 30 points. After that vote, former President Bill Clinton alienated many blacks when he seemed to dismiss Obama's victory by pointing out that "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88."
Racial Divide in the Democratic Primary
Instead of ideology, it was demography that divided the candidates. Clinton consistently won big with white, working-class voters, Hispanics and older white women. Obama won blacks, young voters and educated, affluent whites. Later, as Clinton tried to convince superdelegates that she would make the stronger nominee, she said her voters were the ones Democrats had to win in the fall.
"Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again," she said.
Race became an inextricable part of the Democratic campaign.
For months, Obama tried to run a campaign that transcended race. He didn't run as a black candidate. He ran as a candidate who happened to be black, and as someone who could transcend divisions, including race.
But by the later primaries, significant numbers of white voters were telling exit pollsters that race was part of their resistance to Obama. Race was always just below the surface of the campaign. It burst through when videotapes surfaced of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The tapes showed Wright, from the pulpit of Obama's church, damning America, comparing it to the Ku Klux Klan and claiming that the AIDS virus was a government plot.
Obama responded with a well-received speech about race, where he tried to explain his relationship to Wright. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community," Obama said. "I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother."
But pretty soon, Obama had to disown him, after Wright made another incendiary appearance at the National Press Club. The last straw for Obama was Wright's comments about Obama's attempts to distance himself from Wright's remarks. The next day, Obama finally made a clean break.
"What I think particularly angered me was his suggestion, somehow, that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing," Obama said.
Obama's Caucus Strategy Was Key
One of the most important turning points in the campaign was Feb. 5 — Super Tuesday, when 22 states and American Samoa held Democratic contests. After the marathon voting, Clinton, who had once hoped to wrap up the race by then, found herself no better than tied with Obama.
He went on to win the next 10 contests in a row. Clinton did win more of the big states, including New Jersey, California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. But Obama went hunting for delegates in smaller, mostly red caucus states that she ignored. This is where Obama built his insurmountable lead, netting eight delegates in Nebraska to her seven in Ohio, and 12 delegates in Idaho to her 11 in New Jersey.
Democratic strategist Mark Mellman said the rules did come into play in this race. "The reality is that if the Democrats had a winner-take-all strategy like the Republicans, Clinton would be the inevitable nominee at this point," he said. "In fact, we have a different kind of system. We have a proportional representation system. The Obama campaign did a much better job of understanding those rules and understanding the implications of those rules than the Clinton campaign."
Once she fell behind in pledged delegates, Clinton tried hard to convince the unpledged superdelegates that her strength in the big swing states mattered more than Obama's lead in pledged delegates.
But superdelegates did not buy her argument. To them, Obama represented the future of the Democratic Party, with his millions of new, young voters. They didn't want to risk alienating the party's most reliable voting bloc of African Americans, and they knew that Clinton was viewed less favorably as the campaign wore on, despite her tenacity.
Sixty percent of Americans now tell pollsters she is not honest or trustworthy. That impression was solidified after she repeatedly told a story about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire.
In the last debate, she admitted that was a lie. "I have said that, you know, it just didn't jive with what I'd written about and knew to be the truth," Clinton said.
On June 3, five months after the Democratic contests began, the race was over.
Every state had had its say, and 35 million people had voted. Obama had finally crossed the threshold, collecting more than the 2,118 delegates he needed.
Standing — not coincidentally — in the same convention hall in St. Paul, Minn., where McCain will accept the Republican nomination this August, Obama was triumphant Tuesday night.
"This is our moment," he said to applause. "This is our time."
Clinton did not concede defeat, but the nomination is now beyond her grasp. Obama is the one who will make history.