Clinton: 'Help elect Barack Obama'
Posted June 7, 2008 4:39 a.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2008 2:46 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked her supporters for hanging on during her 17-month roller coaster journey and urged them to rally behind Barack Obama.
The former first lady formally ended her historic quest to become the first female president with a speech Saturday at the at the National Building Museum in Washington. Her husband, former President Clinton, and other family members were at her side.
Clinton supporters began lining up at dawn to attend the farewell address. A smattering of Obama backers showed up as well, saying they did so as a gesture of party unity.
"The Democratic party is a family," she said, as her supporters cheered. "I'm standing with Sen. Obama to say: 'Yes, we can!'"
Obama secured the 2,118 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday after primaries in South Dakota and Montana. He was spending the weekend at home in Chicago and was not planning to attend Clinton's exit.
Aides said Clinton would be unequivocal in her praise for Obama, whom she battled in an epic, 50-state nominating contest pitting the first serious female candidate for president against the most viable black candidate.
"Could a woman serve as commander in chief? Well, I think we answered that one. Can an African American really be our president? Sen. Obama has answered that one," Clinton said. "I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us."
The two had a face-to-face meeting Thursday evening at the home of a Senate colleague, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, where they discussed the campaign to come. They spoke alone for about an hour. Both were laughing when they finished.
Clinton was expected to campaign for Obama and to help with fundraising, while seeking his assistance in retiring her $30 million campaign debt.
The New York senator has also told colleagues she'd be interested in joining Obama as his running mate.
Clinton spent much of Friday working on her concession speech with campaign manager Maggie Williams, media adviser Mandy Grunwald and strategist Mark Penn. Aides described the process as painstaking and emotional but said there was no question Clinton would enthusiastically endorse Obama in the speech.
She also was holding a party at her Washington home Friday to thank and bid farewell to her campaign staff.
Clinton and Obama went to great lengths to keep their meeting a secret from the media beforehand.
Obama "was very gracious," said Feinstein, who had supported Clinton during the primaries. "He said he would go wherever, whenever Senator Clinton wanted."
"This is a deeply personal time, too, you know," Feinstein said. "Barack is trying to put things together for a major presidential campaign. There are a lot of decompression and nerve endings that need to come together."
The undisputed front-runner when she announced her candidacy in January 2007, Clinton saw her march to the nomination derailed a year later after being swamped by Obama in Iowa's leadoff caucuses. She stayed alive after a narrow win in New Hampshire five days later, but her campaign never fully regained its footing despite her strong showing in several big-state primaries beginning in March.