Clinton Asks Supporters to Join in Backing Obama

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) formally suspended her presidential campaign Saturday and encouraged her supporters to join her in helping elect Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in November. At Clinton's farewell speech, reaction among her supporters was mixed.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Audie Cornish in for Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Life is too short, time is too precious and the stakes are too high...

CORNISH: After 16 months and more than 50 primary contests and caucuses, Senator Hillary Clinton ended her bid for the presidency. Her supporters, many of them women with daughters in tow, crowded the halls and balconies of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. There Clinton not only closed the door on taking her hard-fought campaign any further, she unequivocally endorsed her former rival. She asked her supporters to do the same.

Sen. CLINTON: The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand, is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CORNISH: Clinton went on to mention Obama more than a dozen times in her nearly half hour address to modest applause. But it was when she spoke of what her presidential run meant to women when her crowd's cheers rose and tears fell. Clinton's campaign drew nearly 18 million voters, making her run the closest ha woman has come to earning a party nomination.

Sen. CLINTON: Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. CLINTON: And the light is shining through like never before...

CORNISH: It wasn't the party she planned, Clinton said, but she sure liked the company. Whether they will follow her lead and back the presumptive nominee remains to be seen. Democratic strategist and Clinton campaign adviser Kiki McLean was there with her two daughters. I asked if she thought Clinton supporters still harbored ill will over the disputed delegates in Florida and Michigan or the way the campaign came to a close.

Ms. KIKI MCLEAN (Democratic Strategist): I don't think - I think that they understand that she went through the process. Every state in the territory had a voice in this campaign, and I think that they'll join her. I think they'll follow her leadership in supporting Senator Obama. Because I know that Democrats across the country are going to be talking about the issues that are so important to us, and the kind of issues that Senator Clinton's been talking about.

CORNISH: But throughout Clinton's address, you couldn't help but notice loud booing here and there. They mostly echoed from the back of the hall when she mentioned the name of Barack Obama. And despite her endorsement of the presumptive nominee, some Clinton supporters walked away unsure of where they stood now that the primary season is over.

Seventy-year-old Elaine Daniels of Bethesda, Maryland was one of them.

Ms. ELAINE DANIELS (Clinton Supporter): I'm not blindly loyal to the party, so I have to rethink my decision. I don't know if I'm going to vote for Barack Obama. I am inclined right now to write in Hillary Clinton.

CORNISH: Others expressed profound disappointment that the New York senator would not continue to fight for the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August. But, party faithful like Clay Doriti(ph) of San Francisco said he would follow Clinton's lead. He's a delegate to the convention.

Mr. CLAY DORITI (Delegate): I am a Hillary Clinton delegate; I am loyal to her, and when she tells me who to vote for, that's who I'll vote for.

CORNISH: And right now she's saying that those votes should go to Senator Obama, and how are you feeling like that?

Mr. DORITI: Well, personally, I would really like to vote for Senator Clinton, and I'm hoping possibly that we'll have a chance to at least go through a first-round ballot to show our support for her, but if she wants it by unanimous vote, then she's got my vote for Senator Obama.

CORNISH: Do you think that there's a deeper wound there, though, that has to heal between the supporters of Clinton or Obama?

Mr. DORITI: I think it's going to take a little time. I think we're all very passionate about what we believe in. And I wouldn't expect, whether it be Senator Clinton's people or Senator Obama's people, we're passionate and we believe in our candidate. That doesn't change overnight. We love Hillary Clinton. We wanted her to be our president. Am I going to support Barack Obama? Absolutely. But do I need some time to just realize that it's time to move on? I think all of us do.

CORNISH: Barack Obama laid low yesterday, spending the weekend in Chicago. In a statement he commended Clinton for what he called a valiant and historic campaign. Before the day was through, a photo of the former First Lady graced his Web site with a word of thanks and a button encouraging supporters to send the same.

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Clinton Exits Race, Vows to Fully Support Obama

Clinton's Speech

Read a transcript of Hillary Clinton's speech.

The one-time "inevitable" candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination ended her campaign Saturday with an unequivocal endorsement of her rival.

Addressing a boisterous, passionate crowd at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Hillary Clinton urged her supporters to join her in helping Barack Obama win the White House.

"The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand, is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," she said.

Making History

It was the final pageant of Clinton's historic run for the presidency, and her supporters began lining up at dawn to see it. Some Obama supporters joined them in a show of Democratic Party unity, which was what the event was ultimately all about.

Clinton arrived about a half-hour late, accompanied by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, all three of them dressed in black. Despite the funereal attire and disappointing conclusion to her candidacy, Hillary Clinton celebrated the history she'd made.

"When I was asked what it means to be a woman running for president, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman, but I was running because I thought I'd be the best president," she said. She acknowledged, however, that she did face "barriers and biases."

"You can be so proud," she told the cheering crowd, "that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable, my friends."

Clinton likewise acknowledged the historic significance of Barack Obama becoming the first African-American to be the presidential nominee of a major party. Calling this a "turning-point election," she said, "When we first started, people everywhere asked the same questions: Could a woman really serve as commander-in-chief? Well, I think we answered that one. And, could an African-American really be our president? Sen. Obama has answered that one. Together, Sen. Obama and I achieved milestones essential to our progress as a nation, part of our perpetual duty to form a more perfect union."

Clinton was frequently interrupted by cheers. Those were accompanied by a smattering of boos when she asked the crowd to join her in supporting Obama.

Shifting allegiances was still a work-in-progress for some of them. "I'm getting there," said 61-year-old Marti Haub. She confessed she'd been "hoping for some kind of a miracle" that would get Clinton on the ticket. But she accepted that Democrats had to coalesce around Obama and said, "I'm a Democrat and always have been."

Party Unity

Clinton said the Democratic Party was like a family, and "it's now time to restore the ties that bind us together and to come together around the ideals we share, the values we cherish and the country we love."

To show the new-found good will, Clinton's campaign Web site now says: "Support Senator Obama today." Likewise Obama's Web site urges his supporters to e-mail their thanks to Hillary Clinton.

The Long Goodbye

It's been a long goodbye for the former front-runner. Clinton fell hopelessly behind in the delegate count in February when she lost 11 straight contests to Obama. Even her later victories in some large swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio weren't enough to undo the damage.

On June 3, when the exhausting, hard-fought race drew to a close, she still was unable to acknowledge that Obama had secured enough delegates to win the nomination. That night she told supporters she was making no decision about the future of her campaign and continued to press her highly debatable argument that she'd won the popular vote. She was widely criticized for failing to support Obama as the presumptive nominee right then and there.

But by Thursday, Clinton was ready to meet with Obama one-on-one, face-to-face. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Clinton supporter, lent her Washington, D.C., home for that event. There's been no word about what was said in the hour-long meeting. A joint statement from the Clinton and Obama campaigns said simply: "Senator Clinton and Senator Obama met tonight and had a productive discussion about the important work that needs to be done to succeed in November."

Looking Ahead

Obama released a statement on Saturday declaring himself "thrilled and honored to have Senator Clinton's support."

"Our party and our country are stronger because of the work she has done throughout her life," he continued, "and I'm a better candidate for having had the privilege of competing with her in this campaign. ... No one knows better than Senator Clinton how desperately America and the American people need change, and I know she will continue to be in the forefront of that battle this fall and for years to come."

For her part, Clinton gave no inkling that she was angling to be Obama's running mate, something she's previously said she'd be open to and something that many of her backers want. Instead, she urged her supporters not to think "if only" or "what if."

"Don't go there," she said. "Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward."

And to show just how much she was getting with the Obama program, she even tried to inspire the crowd with his signature slogan, "Yes, we can." Unlike the crowds at Obama's rallies, however, none of Hillary Clinton's supporters took up the chant.

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