Bowing to pressure and the unyielding political math, Hillary Rodham Clinton will end her history-making campaign Saturday and endorse Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, aides said Wednesday.
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 that she failed to concede Tuesday night, when it was clear that Obama had clinched the nomination.
“Sen. Clinton will be hosting an event in Washington, D.C., to thank her supporters and express her support for Sen. Obama and party unity,” said Howard Wolfson, her campaign’s communications chief. Other details of Clinton’s exit were still being hashed out. She planned a private party with staff members Friday.
Clinton ran the strongest campaign ever waged by a female presidential candidate, only to fall to another historic candidate bidding to become America’s first black president.
She has several options. She could, for example, release her more than 1,900 delegates to Obama and be through as a presidential candidate. Or she could suspend her candidacy and keep control of her delegates, maintaining her political leverage until the Democratic National Convention in August.
Even before the New York senator made her decision to stand aside, there were signals that she would drastically scale back her campaign. Plans were underway to start laying off about 100 campaign workers, or nearly half her staff, at the end of this week. Obama aides were holding informal conversations -- peer to peer -- to discuss the possibility of some Clinton staffers joining their team for the fall race against Republican John McCain.
Obama had a brief comment about Clinton’s Saturday event. “Truth is, I haven’t had time to think about it,” he said Wednesday night en route to a New York City fundraiser. “This weekend I’m going home, talk it over with Michelle, and we’re going on a date.”
Clinton, a former first lady who entered the presidential contest 17 months ago as a prohibitive favorite, had resisted an immediate exit because “she wanted to touch as many of her supporters as she could,” according to an aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on Clinton’s behalf.
What Clinton found was strong sentiment that it was time for her presidential run to end. During a conference call Wednesday with about 30 House members, Clinton was urged to quickly endorse Obama, 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 were receiving from constituents who backed Obama, the aide said.
Clinton joined Obama on Wednesday 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, Clinton recognized that the end of her candidacy was near, aides and supporters suggested.
“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 stayed close to the couple.
Obama betrayed no impatience, unlike many fellow Democrats. He stopped by Capitol Hill on Wednesday, 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, saying she was “understandably focused on her supporters.”
At the same time, Obama was clearly putting the primary season behind him. His campaign announced the formation of a three-member team to vet potential vice presidential running mates.
The effort will be overseen by Caroline Kennedy, 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.
Obama was also weighing an invitation from McCain to join the Arizona senator for a series of town-hall meetings, though not as soon as the Republican would like. “Having just secured our party’s nomination, this is one of the many items we will be addressing in the coming days,” said Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe.
Still, for all the focus on the general election, the day after Obama sealed his victory felt like many before it, with the political world watching and wondering when Clinton would bow to the seemingly inevitable.
Sending a not-so-subtle message, Democratic Party leaders rallied behind Obama. “The people have spoken,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. “Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democratic Party.”
A group of eight senators who had stayed neutral -- including California’s Barbara Boxer -- issued a separate statement promising Obama “every ounce of our support.”
Even some Clinton backers signaled that it was time for her to step aside. Mondale announced he was supporting Obama. Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York criticized Clinton’s Tuesday night speech, saying she could have been “far more generous” after it was clear that Obama had the delegates needed to win the nomination. “I don’t see what they’re talking about in prolonging this,” Rangel said.
Speculation continued about the possibility of an Obama-Clinton ticket. On Tuesday, she told members of the New York congressional delegation that she was open to the prospect, and many of her supporters have begun lobbying for her selection.
Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, said Wednesday on CNN that he was working to rally members of the Congressional Black Caucus behind the idea.
But some were skeptical. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, one of Clinton’s most vociferous supporters, said that Clinton “couldn’t help but upstage” Obama and that the campaign would have to establish “strict rules . . . about what [former] President Clinton could and could not do during the campaign.”
Former President Carter panned the idea, telling London’s Guardian newspaper that a joint ticket “would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates.”
Nicholas reported from Washington, Barabak from San Francisco. Times staff writer Johanna Neuman contributed to this report.