Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday suspended her presidential campaign and vowed to “work my heart out” to help Sen. Barack Obama win the White House, but while thousands of her supporters cheered, hundreds also booed, loudly.
After a divisive, five-month battle for the Democratic nomination, in which the former first lady cast her opponent as a political neophyte woefully lacking the skills and experience needed to handle the world’s most demanding job, many of her supporters were not yet ready to let bygones be bygones.
Even though the vanquished candidate warned them to move on because “life’s too short,” many made clear with their boos that they will need some healing time before they can support Mr. Obama.
“Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him, and I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me,” she said, drawing the loudest boos of the 28-minute speech, although the cheers were even louder.
“Today I am standing with Senator Obama to say: Yes, we can!” she said, using her former opponent’s campaign catch phrase.
But a smattering of loud boos echoed through the cavernous National Building Museum in the District each of the 15 times she mentioned her opponent by name, although by the end of her concession speech, the cheers won the day. And only one of a dozen Clinton supporters interviewed before the speech said he planned to withhold his support from the presumptive nominee, for now.
Just five days ago, when Mr. Obama secured the 2,118 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, Mrs. Clinton defiantly told her supporters that she remained the best candidate for the presidency, would stay in the race and that the 18 million people who voted for her should “be respected.”
But over the last few days, Democratic leaders pressured the one-time front-runner to concede defeat and throw her support behind Mr. Obama, who has just 150 days before Election Day to reunify his party in hopes of defeating Republican Sen. John McCain.
While Mrs. Clinton spoke of the historic nature of her run and how her candidacy had put “about 18 million cracks [in] that highest, hardest glass ceiling,” she returned again and again to the task ahead.
“The way to continue our fight now to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next president of the United States,” she said. “We cannot let this moment slip away. We have come too far and accomplished too much.”
Mr. Obama declared himself “thrilled and honored” to have Mrs. Clinton’s support.
“I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run,” he said in a statement. “She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams. And she inspired millions with her strength, courage and unyielding commitment to the cause of working Americans.”
Mrs. Clinton, who arrived 45 minutes late for the day’s first and only campaign event, did not release her 1,915 delegates to Mr. Obama, keeping open her options in case circumstances change before the August nominating convention in Denver.
But campaign spokesman Mo Elliethee said she was “making it clear that all 18 million of her supporters should join her in getting behind Barack Obama.”
The spokesman added that Mrs. Clinton was to return home Saturday, and responded to questions of what she does next by saying he had “no answers beyond what happens today.”
The candidate whom many considered the “inevitable” nominee, made multiple missteps as her momentum waned, from waffling on a debate question about whether she supported a proposal to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants to chiding critics who complained about the lengthy race by noting that Democratic presidential front-runner Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June.
Still, Mrs. Clinton said she had no bitterness after the hard-fought campaign and had three words of advice for her supporters who might slip into asking “What if?” or musing “If only.”
“Don’t go there. … Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward. 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,” she said to cheers.
She said that despite the “tough fight,” the Democratic Party “is a family. … We may have started on separate journeys, but today our paths have merged. And we’re all heading toward the same destination, united and more ready than ever to win in November.”
Entering the ornate museum with former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea, the 60-year-old senator from New York basked in cheers for more than three minutes, unable to start her speech. When the crowd finally quieted, she opened with a joke.
“Well, this isn’t exactly the party I’d planned, but I sure like the company,” she said to laughter.
Clinton supporters began lining up at dawn to attend the farewell address. They packed onto the museum’s vast ground floor, with the second and third floor balconies full as well. The stage was draped with American flags, and a massive sound system blared upbeat music from her campaign days.
Mrs. Clinton thanked her supporters, some with their young daughters in tow, repeatedly returning to the milestone her candidacy represented for women.
“When we first started, people everywhere asked the same questions. Could a woman really serve as commander in chief? Well, I think we answered that one,” she said to thunderous cheers.
But she noted the milestone her opponent’s candidacy represents as well, saying his campaign raised another question: “Could an African-American really be our president? And Senator Obama has answered that one.”
Supporters interviewed before her speech largely said they were ready to switch alliances and support the Democratic candidate.
“I’m very disappointed, I have a lot of faith in her, but I’ve come to have faith in Obama, too, so I can get behind him, although I am real disappointed that she didn’t get it,” said Wess Brown, 55, from California.
Hilary Nachem, a 21-year-old student at the University of Maryland, echoed that sentiment. “It’s time for a Democratic president, so I’m going to do whatever I can to support Obama at this point.”
But Kyle Reglin, a 35-year-old from New York, said he may need some time. “I’m not yet ready to support Obama like I supported Hillary, and I don’t know if I will vote for him this fall. Not yet, anyway.”
As soon as Mrs. Clinton finished speaking, some of the nearly 300 Democratic Party leaders and elected officials across the country who had pledged their support to her as superdelegates released statements announcing they now back Mr. Obama.
Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill weighed in, relieved the intraparty fight was finally over.
“I congratulate Senator Hillary Clinton for her courageous and groundbreaking campaign,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Her candidacy inspired millions and unleashed the power of women as they voted in record numbers at the ballot box.”
Said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “As you may know, I was a boxer. And I’ve seen many fights go the distance. But never have I seen one where everyone came out stronger - until now.”