By Anne E. Kornblut and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 7, 2008
After a tumultuous 17-month journey, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) will formally withdraw as a presidential candidate today, publicly declaring her support for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) for the first time since he secured the Democratic nomination.
Clinton drew the wrath of many Democrats when she did not acknowledge Obama's victory in her speech on Tuesday night. Her farewell address to supporters, scheduled for noon today at the National Building Museum at Fourth and F streets NW, is intended to repair any lingering damage from the Tuesday speech and will close the door on an epic primary campaign that, after dividing Democrats, produced the first African American presumptive nominee of any major party in history.
The former rivals made progress in their search for common ground during a clandestine hour-long meeting at the home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday night. Details of the sit-down, held in Feinstein's living room, began to emerge as Clinton aides turned in their cellphones, packed up their offices and put the finishing touches on her much-anticipated speech.
"Hillary will be holding an event tomorrow in Washington D.C. to thank all of her supporters, to express her support for Senator Obama, and to talk about the issues that have been at the core of her public service, the issues she will continue fighting for," campaign manager Maggie Williams wrote in a letter yesterday inviting supporters to attend the gathering. The e-mail doubled as a fundraising solicitation -- a reminder of the nearly $30 million in debt that Clinton will seek to retire.
Clinton welcomed campaign staffers to her Northwest home yesterday for a final, personal thank-you before today's event.
Obama, who is taking the weekend off, made a surprise appearance yesterday at a rally in Chicago for the city's bid to win the 2016 Olympics. Noting that he lives just two blocks from the proposed event site, Obama said: "So I'm just going to be able to walk over there. I might have to rent out my house. I don't know how much it's going to be worth."
He added: "And, also, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to let you know that in 2016, I'll be wrapping up my second term as president."
Neither Clinton nor Obama shared the content of their one-on-one, which aides said they did not think included any conclusive discussion about whether Clinton might be chosen for the vice presidential nomination.
Obama has heaped praise on Clinton in recent weeks, speaking glowingly about her at virtually every public event. He told a crowd in Bristol, Va., on Thursday morning, "I congratulate her on her great achievement, and I know I'm a better candidate that I ran against her."
The two had several brief exchanges this week, including by telephone Tuesday night and in a hallway encounter Wednesday morning at a conference of Jewish leaders. Obama told Clinton on both occasions that he would meet with her whenever she was ready to talk.
En route to Northern Virginia for a campaign rally Thursday evening, Obama told reporters that his offer to talk was open-ended. "I'm looking forward to having a conversation with her. We haven't had the opportunity yet -- we've both been catching our breaths. . . . There will be a time and place when she and I will appear together."
But he gave no inkling that the meeting was about to take place. Obama campaign officials repeatedly denied rumors that the session was in the works, and they did not tell the traveling press corps that the candidate would be staying behind in Washington on Thursday night until the press charter was ready to take off for Chicago.
Only yesterday did Feinstein describe the event.
"They just wanted the opportunity to meet together alone. This is a deeply personal time, too. You're sorting out your feelings. Hillary's going to be giving a big speech tomorrow; Barack is trying to put things together for a major presidential campaign. So there are a lot of decompression, nerve-endings, all these things that need to kind of come together, and I think the opportunity to sit down, just the two of them, was positive," Feinstein, who allowed the two to meet in her Spring Valley home, recounted for reporters in the Capitol yesterday morning.
Neither Feinstein, a Clinton supporter, nor staff members for either senator attended the meeting, so only Clinton and Obama know precisely what was said. Feinstein said that earlier in the week, she offered Clinton her home as a possible neutral venue. Late on Thursday, Clinton decided that the time had come. She recognized that Obama was holding an evening rally with 10,000 supporters not far away, at the Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia, and called Feinstein to let her know they would be coming by.
Other than greeting the two opponents, Feinstein said, she did nothing for the meeting: "She called yesterday afternoon and said, 'Could we use your house?' And I said, 'Sure.' I received them, put them in the living room in two comfortable chairs facing one another."
Clinton and Obama each brought one staffer, and both were sent to Feinstein's study so the candidates could talk privately. Feinstein, whose financier husband, Richard Blum, has amassed a fortune valued at least $50 million, said Clinton and Obama did not ask for anything, so she simply left them glasses of water before heading upstairs to do some senatorial work while Clinton and Obama spoke privately.
An hour later, Clinton and Obama called upstairs to let Feinstein know that the historic meeting was finished.
"I came down, and I said, 'Good night, everybody. I hope you had a good meeting.' And they were laughing, and that was it," Feinstein said.
Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.