WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. Hillary Clinton on Saturday will officially suspend her campaign for the presidency and “express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,” her campaign said Wednesday.
The Clinton campaign said she will make the announcement at “an event in Washington, D.C.,” where she will also thank her supporters.
Obama and Clinton were in Washington on Wednesday to each address the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The candidates ran into each other at the AIPAC conference and had a brief chat, Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass said.
“She’s an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party and has made history alongside me over the last 16 months. I’m very proud to have competed against her,” Obama told the Israel lobbying group.
Obama became his party’s presumptive nominee Tuesday and will be looking to unite Democrats divided by the long and contentious primary season.
“I am very confident how unified the Democratic Party is going to be to win in November,” he said in a Senate hallway Wednesday. iReport.com: Obama/Clinton — dream team or nightmare?
Some say that putting Clinton on the ticket might fit the bill for uniting Democrats.
Clinton lavished her opponent with praise Tuesday, saying he ran an “extraordinary race” and made politics more palatable for many. Video Watch how the primary played out »
Prominent Clinton backer Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, thinks the New York senator could have been “far more generous” during her speech Tuesday night after it was clear that Obama had clinched the Democratic nomination.
Rangel, the senior member of the New York congressional delegation and an early supporter of Clinton’s presidential campaign, said Wednesday that Clinton should have been more clear about what her plans are.
“I would agree that after the math was in before her speech, that she could have been far more generous in terms of being more specific and saying that she wants a Democratic victory,” Rangel said on MSNBC.
“I don’t see what they’re talking about in prolonging this,” Rangel added. “There’s nothing to prolong if you’re not going to take the fight to the convention floor. … I don’t know why she could not have been more open in terms of doing up front what she intends to do later.”
But with some Democrats clamoring for her to join Obama on the ticket, and with the Democratic National Convention — and thus, the official anointment — still more than two months out, the senator from New York gave no hint as to her plans. See VP prospects’ pros, cons »
She again invoked the popular vote, saying she snared “more votes than any primary candidate in history,” but primaries come down to delegates, and according to CNN calculations, Obama has her beaten, 2,156 to 1,923.
Even the White House seemed convinced of Obama’s victory. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday that President Bush congratulated Obama on becoming the first black nominee from a major party. She said his win shows that the United States “has come a long way.”
Clinton vowed to keep fighting for an end to the war in Iraq, for universal health care, for a stronger economy and better energy policy, but she didn’t indicate in what capacity she would wage these battles. That, she said, would be up to her supporters and the party brass. See what lies in store this fall »
The party’s best interests were high on the minds of party leaders Wednesday, as Sen. Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and DNC Chairman Howard Dean called on Democrats to focus on the general election.
“To that end, we are urging all remaining uncommitted superdelegates to make their decisions known by Friday of this week so that our party can stand united and begin our march toward reversing the eight years of failed Bush/McCain policies that have weakened our country,” said a statement from the four.
Billionaire businessman Bob Johnson, a close Clinton adviser and friend, said on CNN’s “American Morning” on Wednesday that Obama could best forge party unity by offering Clinton the vice presidential slot.
A day after the final two primaries in South Dakota and Montana, Johnson sent a letter to House Majority Whip James Clyburn to lobby the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse Clinton as Obama’s running mate.
Saying Clinton would “entertain the idea if it’s offered,” Johnson said, “This is Sen. Obama’s decision. If the Congress members can come together and agree as I do that it would be in the best interest of the party to have Sen. Clinton on the ticket, they carry that petition to Sen. Obama.” Video Watch how the world reacted to Obama’s win »
“This is not a pressure. This is elected officials giving their best judgment,” said Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television.
Johnson’s letter to Clyburn says, “You know as well as I the deep affection that millions of African-Americans hold for both Senator Clinton and President Clinton.”
It continues, “But most important, we need to have the certainty of winning; and, I believe, without question, that Barack Obama as president and Hillary Clinton as vice president bring that certainty to the ticket.” Video Watch Johnson urge Obama to pick Clinton »
Johnson is one of many influential Clinton supporters who have raised the prospect of her joining Obama on the ticket. They say she has solid credentials and wide appeal, exemplified by her popular support in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, which will be crucial to a Democratic victory in the fall.
Obama and Clinton spoke by phone for a few minutes Wednesday. He told her he wants to “sit down when it makes sense” for her, said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Clinton said that would happen soon, Gibbs said, but he also said Obama did not raise the issue of the vice presidency. Clinton campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe confirmed that there had been “absolutely zero discussions” on the matter.
The Clinton campaign issued a statement saying she was open to becoming vice president.
“She would do whatever she could to ensure that Democrats take the White House back and defeat John McCain,” the statement said.
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More from The New York Times >>
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will endorse Senator Barack Obama on Saturday, bringing a close to her 17-month campaign for the White House, aides said. Her decision came after Democrats urged her Wednesday to leave the race and allow the party to coalesce around Mr. Obama.
Howard Wolfson, one of Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategists, and other aides said she would express support for Mr. Obama and party unity at an event in Washington that day. One adviser said Mrs. Clinton would concede defeat, congratulate Mr. Obama and proclaim him the party’s nominee, while pledging to do what was needed to assure his victory in November.
Her decision came after a day of conversations with supporters on Capitol Hill about her future now that Mr. Obama had clinched the nomination. Mrs. Clinton had, in a speech after Tuesday night’s primaries, suggested she wanted to wait before deciding about her future, but in conversations Wednesday, her aides said, she was urged to step aside.
“We pledged to support her to the end,” Representative Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat who has been a patron of Mrs. Clinton since she first ran for the Senate, said in an interview. “Our problem is not being able to determine when the hell the end is.”
Mrs. Clinton’s decision came as some of her most prominent supporters — including former Vice President Walter F. Mondale — announced they were now backing Mr. Obama. “I was for Hillary — I wasn’t against Obama, who I think is very talented,” Mr. Mondale said. “I’m glad we made a decision and I hope we can unite our party and move forward.”
One of Mrs. Clinton’s aides said they were told that except for her senior advisers, there was no reason to report to work after Friday, and that they were invited to Mrs. Clinton’s house for a farewell celebration. The announcement from Mrs. Clinton was moved to Saturday to accommodate more supporters who wanted to attend, aides said.
“Senator Clinton will be hosting an event in Washington, D.C., to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,” Mr. Wolfson said.
Mr. Obama, not waiting for a formal concession from Mrs. Clinton, announced a three-member vice-presidential selection committee that will include Caroline Kennedy, who has become a close personal adviser since endorsing him four months ago.
With some Democrats promoting Mrs. Clinton as Mr. Obama’s No. 2, his aides said they would move slowly in the search, allowing passions from the bruising primary battles to cool.
“Now that the interfamily squabble is done,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday evening at a Manhattan fund-raiser, “all of us can focus on what needs to be done in November.” Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton crossed paths briefly in Washington. As he left the Capitol, Mr. Obama told reporters, “We’re going to have a conversation in the coming weeks.”
Mr. Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where, tacking to the right, he described a far tougher series of sanctions he would be willing to impose on Iran than he had outlined heretofore.
Mrs. Clinton, in a later appearance before the group, moved to reassure an audience clearly nervous about Mr. Obama’s views on Israeli security. “I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel,” she said.
Turning to the general election, Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s likely opponent, and Mr. Obama both said they were interested in holding a series of debates this summer.
Aides to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton said that at least some of Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raisers would move to join the Obama campaign. Still, with the realization of defeat still settling in, it appeared that most of her major financial backers were holding back until they got a clearer signal from Mrs. Clinton of her intentions.
“I’m being aggressively courted by folks in the Obama campaign,” said Mark Aronchick, a Philadelphia lawyer, who is a national finance co-chairman. “I’ve told them all, ‘Everybody relax. Take a deep breath. There’s time enough here.’ ”
On Thursday, Mr. Obama planned to head to the southwestern tip of Virginia, in Appalachia, to begin courting voters in a state that traditionally goes Republican but could be a battleground in the fall. Then, he intends to take a few days to strategize privately about the general-election campaign.
Mrs. Clinton’s decision to suspend her campaign, which was first reported by ABC News, was a bow to the emerging political reality. No one in her campaign — including by all reports Mrs. Clinton herself — saw a viable road to the nomination. A suspension of the campaign allows her to continue raising money and pay off millions of dollars in debt.
The party’s desire for Mrs. Clinton to leave the race was signaled, politely, as four top Democratic leaders issued an early morning statement asking all uncommitted delegates to make their decisions by Friday. The statement from the Democratic chairman, Howard Dean, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Harry Reid and Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, stopped short of endorsing Mr. Obama, but aides said they were likely to move in that direction if Mrs. Clinton lingered in the race.
“The voters have spoken,” they said in a joint statement released before 7 a.m., timed to set the tone for the day after the last primaries. “Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election.”
Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat with close ties to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, and who had kept studiously neutral throughout the fight, said in an interview that he was “coming out from hiding under my desk” to endorse Mr. Obama. “The fact is that he is the nominee,” Mr. Emanuel said
He seemed quizzical at the slowness of Mrs. Clinton’s decision not to acknowledge this.
“You don’t answer about whether you want to be about vice president unless there’s no doubt in your mind that he is the nominee,” he said, referring to Mrs. Clinton’s initial reluctance to congratulate Mr. Obama, noting that she told supporters she would be open to be his running mate if he wanted her.
As Mrs. Clinton began tying up the loose ends of her campaign, Mr. Obama turned to his future — including the choice of a running mate. Some of Mrs. Clinton’s top supporters have been urging Mr. Obama to choose her, saying an Obama-Clinton slate would be a ticket to victory in November.
Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and a leading contributor to Mrs. Clinton, urged members of the Congressional Black Caucus to lobby Mr. Obama to pick Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Johnson said he had spoken to Mrs. Clinton and was speaking with her permission.
“We need to have the certainty of winning,” Mr. Johnson wrote in the letter on Wednesday. “And I believe, without question, that Barack Obama as president and Hillary Clinton as vice president bring that certainty to the ticket.”
David Plouffe, campaign manager for Mr. Obama, said the senator felt no pressure to swiftly name a vice presidential candidate either to tamp down the speculation about Mrs. Clinton’s future or allay her dejected supporters. The passage of time, Mr. Plouffe said, would close the fissures and soothe the hard feelings that developed during the primary fight.
Mr. Obama’s decision to announce his vice-presidential search committee on Wednesday was intended to mute the speculation about Mrs. Clinton’s interest in the position. In addition to Ms. Kennedy, Mr. Obama also tapped Eric Holder, a deputy attorney general from the Clinton administration, and James A. Johnson, who has overseen similar committees in 1984 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
At the same time, Mr. Mondale — who in his career has served as a vice president, and picked one — suggested that Mrs. Clinton and her supporters pull back from even appearance of campaigning for the No. 2 spot, suggesting it could complicate a critical decision by Mr. Obama.
“I think it’s best he just be left alone,” Mr. Mondale said.
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Carl Hulse contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael Luo from New York City.