WASHINGTON – Bowing to pressure and the unyielding political math, Hillary Rodham Clinton will end her history-making campaign by Saturday and endorse Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton’s decision followed a day of private consultation with donors, members of Congress and union supporters, who urged her to back Obama for the sake of party unity – a sentiment that was voiced throughout the day by Democratic Party leaders. Some were angry she failed to concede Tuesday night, when it was clear Obama had clinched the nomination.
Details of how Clinton would make her exit were still being hashed out – even some top aides were caught unaware – but the campaign announced Wednesday she would “be hosting an event in Washington” on Saturday “to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity.”
Officials said the situation remains fluid and that Clinton might disclose her plans first at a private staff party Friday, and then at a public event Saturday.
Clinton has different options. She could release her more than 1,900 delegates to Obama and be finished as a candidate. Or she could merely suspend her candidacy and keep her delegates, maintaining her political leverage until August’s Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Even before Clinton made her decision to stand aside, there were signals she would drastically scale back her campaign. Although it was not publicly disclosed, plans were under way to lay off about 100 campaign workers, or nearly half the staff, starting at the end of this week. Obama aides were holding quiet conversations – on an informal, peer-to-peer basis – to discuss the possibility of some Clinton staffers joining their team for the fall race against Republican John McCain.
There was no comment Wednesday from Obama or his aides on Clinton’s intentions. A spokesman, Bill Burton, said the campaign knew only what the news media had reported.
The New York senator, who entered the presidential contest 17 months ago as a prohibitive favorite, was resisting an immediate exit because “she wanted to touch as many of her supporters as she could,” according to an aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on Clinton’s behalf.
What she found was strong sentiment that it was time for her presidential run – the strongest bid a woman has ever made for the White House – to be over with. During a conference call Wednesday with about 30 House members, Clinton was urged to endorse Obama quickly, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the call. Members of the New York delegation, in particular, wished to be released from their commitment to Clinton because of the pressure they are receiving from constituents who backed Obama, the aide said.
Publicly, Clinton continued to give no quarter. She joined Obama in addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and, while praising the Illinois senator, made no acknowledgment of his triumph in their hard-fought contest.
Behind the scenes, however, aides and supporters suggested Clinton recognized the end of her candidacy was near.
“There’s a sense of reality in the campaign that, from everything you read and hear, Obama has gone over the top,” said Mickey Kantor, who chaired Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and has remained close to the couple since. “The only question now is how to extricate from an active campaign, what the next steps are, and what role does Hillary play in this election.”
For his part, Obama betrayed no impatience, unlike many fellow Democrats – including some prominent Clinton supporters – who expressed puzzlement at her public stance. He stopped by Capitol Hill, where he received congratulations from senators on both sides of the aisle.
“I just spoke to her today and we’re going to be having a conversation in coming weeks,” Obama told reporters after he and Clinton met briefly backstage at the AIPAC conference. “And I’m very confident how unified the Democratic Party’s going to be to win in November.”
Obama dismissed a question about Clinton’s failure to concede Tuesday night when he clinched the nomination by saying the New York senator was “understandably focused on her supporters.”
At the same time, Obama was clearly putting the primary season behind him. His campaign announced formation of a three-member team to vet potential vice presidential running mates. The effort will be overseen by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President Kennedy, who endorsed Obama in January; Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration; and Jim Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae and a longtime Washington insider who helped former Vice President Walter Mondale and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts pick their running mates.