New Campaign for Democrats: Unity

Former rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared together for the first time since the Democratic primary ended. Clinton pledged to throw her full support behind Obama. Video by AP
By Shailagh Murray and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 28, 2008

UNITY, N.H., June 27 -- Sen. Barack Obama wanted a symbolic beginning for his alliance with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he achieved it Friday when the former rivals traveled here together for an afternoon rally designed to unite Democrats for the fall campaign.

Besides the message its name sent, the town of Unity also had the distinction of splitting its votes evenly in New Hampshire's presidential primary, with Clinton and Obama each picking up 107 votes, and it served as a carefully chosen backdrop for transitioning the senator from New York into a substantial role in the Obama campaign.

"I know what we start here in this field in Unity will end on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president," Clinton said, speaking to a crowd of 4,000 outside Unity Elementary School on a steamy day.

"I don't think it's at all unknown among this audience that this was a hard-fought primary campaign," she continued. "But today and every day going forward, we stand shoulder to shoulder for the ideals we share, the values we cherish and the country we love."

Neither side expects major problems in melding the two operations, but after the party's closest nominating contest in modern history, there is no expectation that it will happen overnight. The emotions from the primary fight remain raw for some Clinton supporters, but Obama advisers were encouraged by Friday's first step.

"I think they stand in a pretty good place," senior adviser David Axelrod said.

Taking his turn at the lectern after Clinton introduced him, Obama was effusive in his praise for her. "As someone who took the same historic journey as Senator Clinton, who watched her campaign and debate, I know firsthand how good she is, how tough she is, how passionate she is, how committed she is to the causes that brought all of us here today."

Clinton's first order of business will be soothing her disappointed and even angry supporters, including many women who regard Obama as an upstart who denied the country its first female president. Clinton could help boost Obama's support among women, whose backing will be crucial to his prospects in November.

In Unity, she vouched for the rival she had sparred with for 18 months. "I know Senator Obama. I've served with him in the Senate for four years. I've campaigned with and against him for lots of months," she told the crowd. "So I've had a front-row seat to his candidacy. And I've seen his strength and his determination, his grace and his grit."

But even in Unity, some Clinton backers were not ready to let go. "We want Hillary!" a handful of fans shouted as she spoke. "It's over!" a voice yelled back.

"We cannot let this moment slip away," Clinton pressed on. "For anyone who voted for me and who is now considering not voting, or voting for Senator McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider. I urge you to remember what we are standing for in this election."

Obama advisers also view Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, as having a unique ability to speak to voters for whom the economy is a chief concern. That was a weakness for Obama in the primary campaign, and an area in which his campaign would welcome help from the Clintons.

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