By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the most successful female presidential candidate in U.S. history, officially ended her campaign yesterday with a forceful promise to help elect Sen. Barack Obama -- and the declaration that, even though she had failed to "shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling," a gender barrier had been crossed.
Four days after Obama secured the delegates needed 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 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.
Clinton, who began her candidacy as the overwhelming favorite to win her party's nomination, 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 Senator 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 of a year-and-a-half-long effort in which Clinton won more than 17 million votes and dozens of primary contests.
Clinton was met with a deafening roar the moment she entered the atrium at the National Building Museum, where thousands of supporters gathered for her speech. "Well, this isn't exactly the party I planned," she began, smiling broadly. With her were her daughter, Chelsea; her husband, former president Bill Clinton; and her mother, Dorothy Rodham, who turned 89 years old three days earlier.
The crowd's undiminished enthusiasm was an indication of the challenges facing Obama. Ann Lewis, one of Clinton's longtime friends and advisers, 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 presumptive Republican nominee, by name, she repeatedly encouraged her supporters to remember why they had worked for her and why Obama would fulfill those same goals. She said nearly a dozen times that it is imperative to "help elect Barack Obama our president."
And in one of her most passionate descriptions of social progress, Clinton characterized both Obama's success and her own as the result of historic struggles that must continue. At one point, she said she wanted to talk on "a personal note," and said she identified with women who have faced discrimination in their lives.
"Like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us," Clinton said.
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, 60, said that her own journey will 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 a 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."
It was, in essence, a description of the Clinton credo, a summary of the path she has followed over the course of a career as lawyer, first lady and U.S. senator. Her hard work had earned her a political role in her own right, after eight years in the White House with her husband; her characteristic resilience had carried her through personal crises again and again, from her husband's impeachment to her own defeat in the first Iowa caucuses in January.
In the end, her determination led her to stay in the race, even after Obama's victory looked certain. On Tuesday, she won the primary in South Dakota and, despite network projections and Obama's own claim that he had gained enough delegates to capture the nomination, refused to concede. Instead, she restated what her candidacy had achieved and said she would be "making no decisions tonight."
For days, her intentions were unclear. But on Thursday night, she met privately with Obama at the Washington home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and on Friday signaled she would endorse him at yesterday's event.
Yesterday, she devoted part of her remarks to remembering her campaign, but that trademark defiance gave way to urging support for Obama.
On Friday, in one of the first visible steps toward party unity, Chelsea Clinton flew to Texas to appear at the Democratic state party convention to thank her mother's supporters -- becoming the first family member to publicly encourage backing Obama.
After Clinton's speech, Obama issued a statement thanking her and praising her "valiant and historic campaign."
"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.
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. 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 campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and adviser Sidney Blumenthal -- wandered the floor.
Vernon Jordan, a longtime friend of the Clintons, said that whatever tensions linger from the epic battle will be resolved. "It's all about winning now. The primary campaign is about fighting. The general campaign is about winning."
Ellen Malcolm of Emily's List, the women's political group that 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 that 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."
Staff writers Dan Balz and Kevin Merida contributed to this report.