Hillary Clinton is bowing out of the presidential race, saying on Thursday she will rally support for Barack Obama, as the presumptive Democratic nominee begins the delicate search for a running mate amid pressure from his former rival’s supporters to choose her.
Hillary, armed with a battle-tested campaign team and husband who was a popular two-term president, was initially seen by many as unbeatable. But her hopes of becoming the first woman US president faded as Obama chipped away at her early lead to become the first black nominee to lead a major American party.
Their hard-fought battle created rifts within the Democratic Party that Hillary’s public show of support would help heal. "I will be speaking on Saturday about how together we can rally the party behind Senator Obama," Hillary told supporters in an email Thursday morning. "The stakes are too high and the task before us too important to do otherwise."
Hillary’s communications director Howard Wolfson said she will express her support for Obama at an event she is hosting on Saturday in Washington DC, to thank her supporters. Now that Hillary is stepping aside, her supporters have pushed for the former first lady to be the vice-presidential candidate. Obama indicated he would at least consider her.
"Senator Clinton would be on anybody’s short list, obviously," he told CBS News, adding they agree on almost all issues. Obama on Wednesday chose a three-person team to help him find a running mate, a day after he reached the delegate threshold to clinch the nomination. His campaign said the vetting was to be managed by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of late President John F. Kennedy; former deputy attorney-general Eric Holder and Washington insider Jim Johnson.
Hillary has told lawmakers privately that she would be interested in the vice-presidential nomination. Obama was noncommittal after chatting with her Wednesday morning at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference.
On the one hand, by making Hillary his choice for vice-president, Obama might tap into her core supporters, who have so far eluded him, including masses of blue-collar voters in swing states, Hispanics and older voters, especially women.
However, Obama has painted Hillary as a figure of another time and himself as a clean break from all that’s past and passe about Washington.
Obama’s general-election battle against Republican John McCain, a veteran senator who effectively clinched the Republican nomination in March, is shaping up to be a clash of generations as well as a debate on Iraq. Obama, 46, opposes the war; McCain, 71, is a former Vietnam prisoner of war and staunch supporter of the current US military mission.
Obama, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday, criticised McCain for supporting a "plan for staying, not a plan for victory" in Iraq.
"Keeping all of our troops tied down indefinitely in Iraq is not the way to weaken Iran, it is precisely what strengthened it," Obama told the gathering.
The comments were aimed to reassure Jewish voters who had been wary of the first-term senator, who was sharply criticised by Republicans for saying he was prepared to meet one-on-one with some of the US’s staunchest foes.
McCain, meanwhile, challenged Obama to join him in 10 town-hall meetings with voters before the Democratic convention in August. An Obama adviser was receptive to the idea and said the campaign would discuss it.
Obama’s clinching of the Democratic nomination completed one of the most remarkable US political campaigns in memory. A first-term senator, largely unknown nationally four years ago, he toppled one of America’s most powerful political families.
News of Hillary’s decision broke on Wednesday night as Obama attended a $2,300-per-person fundraiser in New York’s Park Avenue that he called "our first post-nomination event".
Asked about Hillary’s acknowledgment that he will be the Democratic nominee, Obama said: "Truth is, I haven’t had time to think about it. This weekend, I’m going home, talk it over with Michelle and we’re going on a date."
Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, was lobbying members of the Congressional Black Caucus to urge Obama to put Hillary on the ticket. He said he was doing so with her blessing.
New York Rep. Charles Rangel, a founding member of the caucus, expressed doubts that Johnson’s approach would work. "I don’t really think that the way to get Obama to (choose) Clinton would be to put pressure on him. I think it would have the opposite effect," said Rangel, an early Hillary supporter.
The Obama camp’s disclosure about the three-person vice president vetting team was an effort to change the subject from the long, divisive primary campaign toward the general election.
Caroline’s name came as a surprise, although she endorsed Obama at a critical time last winter, saying he could be an inspirational leader like her father. She also campaigned for Obama.