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Obama visits Clinton, aims to unite party

Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands with supporters at a rally Thursday at Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Virginia. Associated Press
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands with supporters at a rally Thursday at Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Virginia. Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Barack Obama moved quickly Thursday to unite his party around his candidacy, paying an unexpected house call to his soon-to-be-former Democratic rival, while dispatching one of his top field operatives to help run the Democratic National Committee.

After a day spent campaigning across Virginia, Obama delayed a trip home to Chicago Thursday night to visit Clinton at her Northwest Washington home. Campaign aides would not comment on the meeting, but on the eve of Clinton’s expected departure from the race it was seen as a reconciliation gesture to the senator from New York and her millions of disappointed supporters.

In addition to DNC staff changes, Obama extended his campaign’s prohibition on raising funds from lobbyists and political action committees on the party’s fundraising operations. Paul Tewes, one of the architects of Obama’s primary strategy and the field general of his critical victory in the Iowa caucuses, will serve as Obama’s point man at DNC.

The party chairman, Howard Dean, has been pursuing a “50-state” strategy since 2005, an effort many Democrats have criticized because it has been an enormous drain on the party’s resources. The DNC has trailed its Republican counterpart badly this election cycle and had just $4.4 million in the bank at the end of April, compared with the Republican National Committee’s $40.6 million.

Obama said his special-interest money ban is “not a perfect solution” but is an important symbolic move. “It does at least signal that we are going to make an effort to reverse a culture in Washington that has come to be dominated by the wealthy and the powerful,” he said in a news conference aboard his campaign plane en route from Bristol in the state’s southwest corner to the Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia, where he held a rally to kick off his general-election campaign.

With Clinton set to formally suspend her campaign tomorrow, party leaders stepped up efforts to unify Democrats after a grueling and historic battle. New York’s 23-member Democratic delegation in the House – among them some of the most stalwart Clinton backers – collectively endorsed Obama as the Democratic nominee, pledging to return to their districts this weekend and work to sway Clinton voters to embrace him as well.

Clinton, meanwhile, tried to quiet a campaign by her allies to force her onto the Democratic ticket. “While Senator Clinton has made clear throughout this process that she will do whatever she can to elect a Democrat to the White House, she is not seeking the vice presidency, and no one speaks for her but her,” her campaign said in a news release. “The choice here is Senator Obama’s and his alone.”

Obama said he “appreciated very much” the statement, and he instructed reporters to dismiss all speculation about possible running mates.