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Clinton's Last Hurrah

Sen. Hillary Clinton acknowledged the crowd as she arrived at the National Building Museum today to suspend her historic presidential bid. (Reuters)

By Anne E. Kornblut
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the most successful female presidential candidate in U.S. history, officially left the race on Saturday with a forceful promise to help elect Sen. Barack Obama -- and a powerful declaration that, even in defeat, a gender barrier had been crossed.

Four days after Obama secured the delegates to win the Democratic nomination, Clinton gave him her unqualified endorsement, finally putting to rest questions about whether she would help unite the party for the general election. In generous and at times soaring terms, Clinton described her cause as united with Obama's, saying that only electing him would achieve the goals of universal health care, a strong economy and the end of the war in Iraq.

"We may have started on separate journeys, but today our paths have merged," Clinton said. She discouraged rehashing the long and divisive Democratic primary campaign, instead asking her supporters -- some of whom, still resentful, booed when she mentioned her former rival during the speech -- to "take our energy, our passion, our strength and to do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States."

"When you hear people saying, or think to yourself, 'if only' or 'what if,' I say -- please don't go there," Clinton said. "Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward."

She continued: "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 Sen. Obama is our next president, and I hope and pray that all of you will join me in that effort."

It was a final, emotional end for Clinton's campaign after a year-and-a-half long effort that once seemed unstoppable. A former first lady and one of the most famous women in the world, Clinton, 60, won more than 17 million votes and dozens of primary contests. But it was not enough.

Clinton was met with a deafening roar the moment she entered the atrium at the National Building Museum, where thousands of supporters had gathered for her final rally. "Well, this isn't exactly the party I planned," she opened her remarks, smiling broadly. With her were her daughter, Chelsea; her husband, former President Bill Clinton and her mother, Dorothy Rodham, who turned 89 years three days ago.

The fiercely loyal crowd was emblematic of the biggest challenges facing Obama. Ann Lewis, one of Clinton's longtime friends and advisers, pointed to the enthusiasm in the hall and acknowledged that that kind of fidelity "is not switched with the turn of a faucet."

But Clinton expressed no ambivalence about ending her bid and turning her attention to the fall campaign, although she did not mention Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, by name.

Clinton described both Obama's success and her own as the result of earlier battles that continue today. She noted that, even as she spoke, the 50th female astronaut was headed into outer space on a mission.

"If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House," said Clinton, who throughout the campaign often mentioned her own thwarted desire to be an astronaut at a time when women were not allowed to apply.

"And 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," she said.

Clinton said that her own journey would make it easier for other women in the future. "You can be so proud that from now on it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States," she said. "And that is truly remarkable, my friends."

She continued: "To those who are disappointed that we couldn't go all the way ... it would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours. Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in."

On Friday, in one of the first visible steps toward party unity, Chelsea Clinton flew to Texas to appear at the Democratic state convention to thank her mother's supporters -- the first family member to publicly encourage backing Obama. "My mother wants it to be very clear that we are going to unite our party," she told the convention. There has been some speculation that Obama might reach out to the younger daughter as a potential bridge between the two camps.

After Saturday's speech, which was broadcast live around the world, Obama issued a statement welcoming her support and thanking her.

"Obviously, I am thrilled and honored to have Senator Clinton's support. But more than that, I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run," Obama said.

"She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams," he said. "And she inspired millions with her strength, courage and unyielding commitment to the cause of working Americans. Our party and our country are stronger because of the work she has done throughout her life, 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,"

Other Democratic leaders issued statements of praise -- and relief. "My heart is with her and her remarkable family today," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton administration official and friend to both the Clintons and Obamas, said in a statement. "Although she fell short in the delegate race, her campaign was successful in the larger sense. She took issues that dominate the dinner table and put them on. center stage. Because of Hillary we are closer to the day when every family has a family doctor; every working person has a good job, and every girl and boy can dare to dream."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Clinton for running a "courageous and groundbreaking campaign."

If Clinton had sought a sense of closure, the event seemed to offer it. Young staff members, now jobless, hugged each other and passed out business cards. More recognizable Clinton stalwarts -- from Terry McAuliffe to Rep. Anthony Weiner and Sidney Blumenthal -- wandered the floor. So many reporters and news crews were on hand that aides said it was the largest event of the election season, dwarfing even her announcement speech and first trip to Iowa in January of 2007.

Ellen Malcolm of EMILY's List, which ardently backed Clinton, said she has been surprised in her conversations how many Clinton loyalists had not yet focused on the choice in the general election. She said women are the key to victory in the fall and Obama will have to work to get them, but added, "Once the spotlight is on the choice between Senator Obama and Senator McCain, the picture will become clearer."

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 7, 2008; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton  
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