By Jonathan Weisman and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is likely to suspend her presidential campaign on Saturday and endorse Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, according to informed sources, after a day in which many of her key supporters and party leaders encouraged the senator from New York to make a quick decision in the interest of party unity.
The Clinton campaign issued a statement late yesterday that did not officially confirm her decision but said Clinton would hold an event in Washington "to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity." The event was originally scheduled for tomorrow, but in a subsequent release her campaign announced that it would be moved to Saturday "to accommodate more of Senator Clinton's supporters who want to attend."
The decision came hours after the launch of an aggressive campaign by some of Clinton's supporters to encourage Obama to pick her as his running mate had further stoked tensions with backers of the senator from Illinois. Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and a prominent Clinton confidant, said in an interview that she was "absolutely ready" to talk to Obama about the No. 2 slot and would take it if offered.
The vice presidential talk and pressure on Clinton to quit the race created an awkward ending to the Democratic race at a time when Obama is eager to turn his attention to the general-election campaign against Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee.
McCain, meanwhile, put his opponent on the spot yesterday with a call for 10 joint town hall meetings at which he and Obama would share the stage and begin a dialogue that would be unprecedented in modern presidential politics.
Although Obama was the newly crowned winner of the Democratic race, the focus remained on Clinton through much of yesterday as Democrats pushed anxiously for her to bring her candidacy to an end.
Even some supporters of Clinton were baffled by the fact that she had still neither endorsed Obama nor announced an intention to continue fighting for the nomination all the way through the Democratic National Convention in August.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of Clinton's most stalwart supporters, said he would back her efforts to join Obama on the ticket. But, he added, it is incumbent on her to acknowledge she had lost the fight to Obama.
"What I don't know is what the heck she needs this extra time for," he said, referring to Clinton's speech Tuesday, in which she said she would take a few days to consider her options. "How much more time does she need to be able to say the person she wants to help is Barack Obama? I don't know what this intrigue is all about."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin sent out a joint letter urging the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to quickly declare their intentions, though without giving Clinton a timetable for making her decision.
Clinton visited her campaign's Northern Virginia headquarters after speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and told staffers that they would be paid through June 15 but that tomorrow would be their last day of work, leading to speculation that she would drop her candidacy then.
Endorsements for Obama continued rolling in from party officials, senators and House leaders. He was greeted warmly at the AIPAC conference, where sentiments might have tilted against him among audience members wary about the depth of his support for Israel.
The Republican National Committee did its best to keep Clinton in the picture, unveiling new advertisements highlighting her criticism of Obama from the nomination fight.
"That's the sad part of it," said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "The story today and the next couple of days should be 'Senator Barack Obama has won the nomination to lead the Democratic Party's ticket for the White House, the first African American to do so.' We should be reveling in that."
Johnson, the BET founder, angered Obama backers when he asked House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) to mobilize black lawmakers behind a "dream ticket" campaign. "I believe that the most important step that you can take now is to encourage the Congressional Black Caucus to urge Senator Obama to select Senator Hillary Clinton as his Vice Presidential running mate," he wrote.
After a lunchtime discussion of Johnson's letter with her caucus, Kilpatrick made it clear that the black caucus had no intention of taking up the "dream ticket" cause.
In an interview, Johnson said he talked specifically with Clinton on Tuesday about his intentions. "She said, 'Go ahead,' " Johnson recalled.
But inside Obama's campaign, there is a distinct coolness to the idea of adding Clinton to ticket, in part because of the complication of determining the role for former president Bill Clinton. The efforts underscored how difficult it will be for Obama to move beyond his long, rancorous struggle with Hillary Clinton for the nomination, even as Democratic Party leaders tried yesterday to rally around him.
Obama supporters feared that continuing questions about Clinton's next moves will escalate into a "second campaign" that will be put to rest only when the presumptive Democratic nominee chooses a running mate.
Obama and Clinton gave back-to-back speeches yesterday morning at the AIPAC conference, expressing their commitment to the security of the Jewish state. Clinton used the occasion to give some acknowledgment that her struggle for the nomination was over.
Speaking of the need for a "Democratic president," she assured the audience: "I know, I know Senator Obama understands what is at stake here. It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend. And let me be very clear, I know Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel."
Obama tried to broaden the discussion of his vice presidential pick beyond Clinton, tapping former deputy attorney general Eric Holder and Caroline Kennedy to help former Fannie Mae chief executive James Johnson vet potential running mates.
But Obama supporters said he needed to do more. The campaign should be leaking names of some of the prospects, they said. Obama could even hold some well-publicized meetings, as McCain did last month when he invited Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Republican rival Mitt Romney to his ranch outside Sedona, Ariz.
"The biggest decision he's got to make is his vice president. He's got to be methodical, thoughtful, and Hillary Clinton knows that," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), a friend of both Obama and Clinton who endorsed his fellow Chicagoan yesterday. "She wouldn't allow herself to be rushed into anything, either."
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), an Obama adviser, offered several names to the list of potential vice presidential choices, including those of former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham; Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a top Clinton supporter; and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an Obama supporter who could assuage the disappointment of women who wanted the chance to vote for the first female president.
"Senator Clinton is a candidate for the vice presidency, and she should be a candidate for vice presidency," Davis said. But he added that Obama is under no more obligation to choose her than Al Gore was to pick runner-up Bill Bradley in 2000, Bill Clinton was to pick Paul Tsongas in 1992 or Michael S. Dukakis was to pick Jesse L. Jackson in 1988.
"There is no particular tradition in the modern era of the victor picking the second place finisher," Davis said.
Several other prominent Democrats on both sides of the divide panned the idea of adding Clinton to the ticket. Former president Jimmy Carter, an Obama supporter, told the Guardian, a British newspaper, that naming Clinton "would be the worst mistake that could be made" and "would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates." Even Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, one of Clinton's top supporters, knocked down the concept. "There's no bargaining," Rendell told NY1 television. "You don't bargain with the presidential nominee. Even if you're Hillary Clinton and you have 18 million votes, you don't bargain."
Both Rendell and Johnson noted that a joint ticket would require the Obama campaign to put strict boundaries on the role the former president would play in the fall campaign.
Rank-and-file Democrats are as divided on the topic as they have been throughout a contest in which the candidates split the popular vote almost evenly, with Clinton's supporters enthusiastically embracing a joint ticket but Obama's backers appearing to be far more skeptical.
A poll released this week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 76 percent of Clinton voters would like to see Obama choose her as his running mate, up from 69 percent in March. But 54 percent of Obama's voters rejected the idea, up from 46 percent earlier this spring.
And the bitterness among Obama supporters lingers. Clyburn said his office has been deluged with racist phone calls since his endorsement of Obama on Tuesday, some so vicious an intern had to be taken from his office crying on Tuesday. Clyburn blamed the dismissive tone set by Clinton and her supporters, a tone that he said continued Tuesday night when she held a "victory rally" and failed to acknowledge defeat.
"At some point, she needs to congratulate the man for having won," Clyburn said before Clinton announced the Saturday event. "Those kinds of things are important to us who grew up in the South with these kinds of slights. That speech cannot be seen as anything but a slight."