Clinton exits, endorses Obama

Senator strongly urges support for former rival

Election 2008

June 08, 2008|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton ended her campaign yesterday with a full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama and a stirring summation of her bid to become the first woman president.

Clinton used a nationally televised speech in downtown Washington to praise the party's likely 2008 nominee and urge her backers to work as hard for his election as they had for hers.

In abandoning a campaign she launched more than 17 months ago, Clinton congratulated Obama "on the victory he has won. ... I endorse him and throw my full support behind him."

There were scattered boos at mentions of Obama's name but mainly cheers as Clinton pleaded with the Democratic "family" to "come together" after a "tough fight."

Her remarks appeared to meet, if not exceed, the expectations of Obama's campaign, which is eager to close rifts within the party and attract many of the voters, including women, Hispanics and working-class whites, who tilted strongly to Clinton in the primaries.

Obama, in a statement released by his campaign, said he was "thrilled and honored" to gain Clinton's support and praised her "valiant and historic campaign." He added that he is "a better candidate" for having had to compete against her.

Portions of Clinton's 28-minute speech, delivered in an air-conditioned hall on a sweltering afternoon, were drawn directly from her campaign stump speech. But she departed in one significant respect by addressing feminism, a topic she largely avoided in the campaign.

Her words reflected apparent pride in what she had accomplished and perhaps the belief - though she did not say so directly - that her candidacy had been hampered by sexism.

She said that when asked during the campaign what it meant 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," the familiar line prompting fresh applause from supporters.

"But," she went on, "I am a woman, and like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us."

She said that "women and men alike" need to understand that women must "enjoy equal opportunities, equal pay and equal respect."

She added that there should be "no acceptable limits" and "no acceptable prejudices in the 21st century in our country."

Some on Clinton's team, including her husband, have complained about a sexist element in the opposition to her campaign and in criticism of her candidacy by some in the news media.

In a line that was likely to encourage supporters in the belief that she has not given up on her ambition to win the White House someday, Clinton said that "we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time." But "thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," a reference to the number of votes she received during the primaries, "filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."

Unlike her speech Tuesday night, which drew criticism for not acknowledging that Obama had won, Clinton advised her supporters that it was time to move beyond the divisions of the primary fight.

Her endorsement of Obama was both extensive and strongly delivered.

"Life is too short, time is too precious and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been. We have to work together for what still can be. And that is why I will work my heart out to make sure that Senator Obama is our next president," she said. "I hope and pray that all of you will join me in that effort."

The New York senator is being pushed by her supporters for the second spot on the Democratic ticket. Obama has said she would be on anyone's short list for vice president, but his aides have sought to discourage speculation that she would be picked.

Clinton and Obama met privately for an hour Thursday night at the Washington home of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but there are no indications that they discussed the vice presidency.

Obama's ability to attract Clinton's supporters, some of whom have told pollsters they would defect to John McCain in the fall, is considered essential to his chances of winning the general election.

Clinton's argument on Obama's behalf combined both the personal and the substantive. As she has before, she linked her attempt to make a breakthrough for women to his pathbreaking effort as an African-American candidate.

She also pointed to issues, such as the economy, global warming and the war in Iraq, as reasons why "we need to help elect Barack Obama our president."

Echoing her former rival's campaign slogan, she said she shared Obama's optimism and "so today I am standing with Senator Obama to say, 'Yes, we can!' "

At the same time, Clinton made it clear that she has no intention of surrendering her place at the center of the national stage, particularly on issues such as universal health care.

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