Obama Meets with Clinton After Va. Campaign Stop

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Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton held a private meeting Thursday night in Washington. A spokesman for Obama says it was a chance for the two to talk about "bringing their campaigns together in unity." Obama attended the meeting after a day of campaigning in Virginia, where Democrats hope to re-draw the political map in November.

Last night's meeting was the first chance for the Democratic rivals to have an extended conversation since Obama clinched his party's nomination on Tuesday. They tried to keep it quiet. Obama ditched his usual press entourage before the meeting. But he has been praising Clinton at every opportunity, and he makes no secret of reaching out to her supporters.

"We're going to speak to them, but also listen to them, get advice," Obama said. "They did very well in a number of states where we need help. And we're going to try, with all humility, to seek their support and figure out how we can all work together to win in November."

Obama's first campaign stop as his party's presumptive nominee was Virginia, a Southern state that has not gone Democratic in a presidential race since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

On a hot, sticky night in northern Virginia, thousands of people filled an outdoor amphitheater to celebrate Obama's primary win and hear his plans for boosting the economy, making college more affordable and ending the war in Iraq.

"I am here to say to you, Virginia, let the work begin. Let us start right now building that better future," Obama said.

Obama also held a town hall meeting devoted to health care in southwestern Virginia. That part of the state has been reliably Republican, but Democrats believe Obama could carry Virginia with a larger turnout of African-American voters and a strong showing in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. Virginia Democrats have won statewide races for the Senate and the governor's office in recent years, and Gov. Tim Kaine told Obama's supporters that it is time to extend that winning streak.

"I want you to put on your running shoes, I want you to open your checkbooks. We're going to make this happen. We're going to make history in Virginia," Kaine says.

Obama was also joined at the rally by Sen. Jim Webb, a Democratic superdelegate who had remained neutral until now. Webb and Kaine have both been mentioned as possible running mates for Obama. Bonita Brown, who was listening in the audience, says she is confident the Democrats can carry her state.

Brown concedes the long primary campaign took a toll on the party, but she is convinced that any hard feelings will quickly pass.

"I think the reality is some might be a little upset right now," Brown says. "But the reality is we have had enough of the Republicans. It's time for a change. It's time for something new and different."

Clinton is planning to announce her formal support for Obama on Saturday. Both Democrats say the differences between them are small, compared to their differences with Republicans. GOP candidate Sen. John McCain is campaigning in the battleground state of Florida on Friday, where he plans to tour the Everglades in an airboat. At a meeting of Florida newspaper editors on Thursday, McCain was grilled for voting against funding for Everglades restoration. McCain argued the measure was part of an overloaded spending bill.

"If we start piling on project after project — some of them, as I said, good, and some of them bad, as I was just mentioning about the earmark process — then spending gets completely out of control," McCain said.

McCain telephoned Obama earlier this week to congratulate him on securing his party's nomination. Obama says they joked about how unlikely it would have seemed a year ago that either of them would be on a presidential ticket. Both men say they hope to wage a respectful contest, with no demonizing or Internet innuendo. First, though, Obama says he plans to take the weekend off, go on a date with his wife and a bike ride with his two daughters.

True Concessions? Crafting Clinton's Exit

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton on Saturday will thank her supporters and announce her support for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy.

"I have said throughout the campaign that I would strongly support Sen. Obama if he were the Democratic Party's nominee," she said in an e-mail to her backers. "I will be speaking on Saturday about how, together, we can rally the party behind Sen. Obama. The stakes are too high and the task before us too important to do otherwise."

But she did otherwise in a speech on Tuesday night. Speaking in New York City after the polls closed in the final contests in Montana and South Dakota, Clinton told supporters she would be making no decision about the future of her campaign at that time. Her speech sounded more like a rally than a denouement.

Clinton argued she'd carried "the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history" — though that's true only if you leave out a few caucus states and also count the votes in Michigan, where Obama wasn't on the ballot.

Party Needs a Unity Speech

What Democrats wanted to hear, according to Democratic campaign strategist Bill Carrick, was a unity speech.

"The arguments like who won the most popular votes and who's going to be the strongest candidate in the general election ... have been very contentious arguments," he said, "and it just creates a wedge between the Obama supporters and the Clinton supporters. And I think a lot of people found that disappointing."

On Tuesday night, Obama had secured enough delegates — both pledged and super — to secure the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But Clinton congratulated him and his supporters only "on the extraordinary race they have run," with no reference to the outcome.

"It was curious to me why she didn't concede," says another Democratic strategist, Garry South. "The election was clearly over. ... I'm really not sure what this four-day delay bought her."

What Does Delay Buy Her?

It's certainly raised a lot of speculation. Much of it centers around the vice presidential spot. Clinton has said she'd be open to it. Reportedly, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has been pushing for it.

Lanny Davis, an aide to Clinton's campaign, has even joined forces with a group called "VoteBoth" in circulating an online petition to get her the No. 2 spot on the ballot. Not a good move, according to Carrick.

"The vice presidency is not something that's campaigned for," he says. "It usually backfires on someone who overtly campaigns" for the job.

That may be why Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson released a statement saying: "While Sen. Clinton has made clear throughout this process that she will do whatever she can to elect a Democrat to the White House, she is not seeking the vice presidency, and no one speaks for her but her."

Do the Right Thing

In any case, the consternation over Clinton's Tuesday speech "will all go away on Saturday," according to Susan Estrich, manager of Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign and author of The Case for Hillary Clinton.

"There's really no choice for her — if she wants a future at all in the Democratic Party — but to do the right thing, which she's going to do," Estrich says.

And here's what "the right thing" would be, according to South: "She has to concede, and she has to use the accepted words for a concession speech, which is that 'I lost, Barack Obama won, and I offer him my heartiest congratulations.' And anything less than that will be viewed as more parsing of words. That's what Democrats need, and anything less than that on Saturday ... is going to do damage to Hillary Clinton."

But how Democrats will ultimately judge her is not a matter of what she says in her next speech, says Carrick, but "the totality of how she behaves between now and November. If she's presumed to be ... working hard for the ticket," he says, "everybody's going to forget about this stuff."

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