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With Legacy and Future in Mind, Clinton Ends Run

Hillary Rodham Clinton today offered a full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama's presidential campaign in a speech that mixed the historic nature of the protracted Democratic nomination fight with intimate personal reflections about her time on the campaign trail and an unwavering promise to remain in the political process moving forward.

Hillary Clinton and her family Hillary Rodham Clinton and her family on stage Saturday at the National Building Museum. (Reuters)

Within moments of taking the stage at the National Building Museum in Washington, Clinton made sure there would be no ambiguity about her support for her one-time rival. "I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the race he has run," Clinton said of Obama. "I endorse him and throw my full support behind him."

Time and time again, Clinton cast herself and Obama as fellow travelers who, despite the occasional nastiness of a campaign that spanned more than 16 months, had far more in common than many of their supporters may believe.

"I understand that we all know this has been a tough fight but the Democratic party is a family and now it is time to restore the ties that bind us together," Clinton urged. "We may have started on separate journeys but today our paths have merged."

Clinton even borrowed Obama's trademark "yes we can" line at one point in her address, insisting that the two share a hope and an optimism about the possibilities for the country in the future.

Clinton also spoke far more expansively than she had previously about the challenges of running for president as a woman. "I am a woman, and like millions of women I know there are still barriers and biases out there," she said.

Despite coming up short in her bid for the Democratic nod, Clinton said that she has made the path for the next woman presidential candidate all that much easier. She noted that when her campaign began there were questions about whether a woman could really serve as commander in chief; "Well, I think we answered that one," she said.

She added that while her campaign had failed to break the final -- and highest -- glass ceiling, that it had still managed to put "about 18 millions cracks in it", a reference to the votes she won during the entirety of the presidential primary fight. "The light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be easier next time," Clinton said.

For a candidate who had seemed to campaign at arm's length, Clinton's willingness to speak of personal matters in this address was telling.

In offering advice to younger people who had involved themselves in her campaign, Clinton summarized her own life philosophy: "When you stumble, keep faith. When you're knocked down, get right back up. And never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on."

At another moment, she counseled her supporters to avoid dwelling on the past for fear of sacrificing opportunities in the future -- a pledge in which it was hard not see the steely resolve that guided her during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late 1990s.

"Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward," she said. "Life is too short, time is too precious and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been."

Clinton seemed ready to follow her own advice, repeatedly making clear that this race was just a chapter -- albeit it a big one -- in a life dedicated to public service.

She offered few obvious clues in answer to the question of "what's next," although she spoke forcefully in favor of universal health care. "It is a fight I will continue until every single American is insured, no exceptions and no excuses," Clinton said.

Her own legacy -- and her husband's -- were clearly on her mind, however. She noted that in the 40 years she had been involved in public service, there had been ten presidential elections -- only three of which had been won by Democrats. "The man who won two of those elections is with us today," Clinton said, turning to her husband just off stage and adding her own applause to that of the assembled crowd.

The recognition of her husband and his work for the country and the party during the 1990s was a first step in the rehabilitation of the former president's image, which has been badly dinged during this primary season.

(Clintons chronicler John Harris has an intriguing piece up at Politico about what this loss means to both Hillary and Bill and where it may lead the couple in the future.)

Expanding on that legacy will be the work of Hillary Clinton in the months and years to come as she returns to the Senate and begins to chart a new course -- not the one she wanted but the one she has now accepted.

"I am going to count my blessing and keep going," she pledged. Indeed.

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By Chris Cillizza  |  June 7, 2008; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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