- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday stood side-by-side with presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama for the first time as a former candidate, introducing him to her top donors and urging them to back his campaign enthusiastically.

“Let me introduce my friend Senator Barack Obama to my friends, all of these wonderful people who have meant so much to me in my life,” the New York senator told more than 300 people who helped her raise $230 million as she tried to become the nation’s first female president.

“We have to make it a priority in our lives to elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States,” she said. “We are a family, and we have an opportunity now to really demonstrate clearly we do know what’s at stake, and we will do whatever it takes to win back this White House.”

The two Democrats who once battled for the nomination kissed on the cheek in front of the private gathering and “looked very good together,” attorney Chris Petersen of McLean told The Washington Times.

In a symbolic gesture, Mr. Obama opened his own checkbook for Mrs. Clinton’s remaining campaign debt, giving her $4,600 from him and his wife Michelle. His finance chairman Penny Pritzker did the same.

The event was a big step toward bringing the rival camps together after the long primary that left some voters angry.

“I’m going to need Hillary by my side campaigning during his election, and I’m going to need all of you,” the Illinois senator said, adding it was about more than money — he needs their networks and energy.

He drew a sustained ovation when reminding the group he had told his own top fundraisers to help Mrs. Clinton with her debt that “needs to be taken care of.”

Clinton supporters leaving the event said they were thrilled Mr. Obama adopted a respectful tone in a message that he understood their dedication to the one-time front-runner.

“I recognize that this room shared the same passion that a roomful of my supporters would show. I do not expect that passion to be transferred,” he said, adding: “Senator Clinton and I at our core agree deeply that this country needs to change.”

Several donors described the atmosphere as warm, exuberant and ready to move forward with the next stage to put a Democrat in the White House.

“This party is on fire,” Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said, adding that he had talked to former President Bill Clinton this week and is confident he would “do whatever is needed 24/7” to help Mr. Obama win in November.

But he couldn’t resist adding one of the now defunct campaign’s talking points that the candidates each received millions of votes and “Hillary actually got more.” As for the debt, Mr. McAuliffe said he was not worried, and reported that about $500,000 in online donations flooded in Thursday after Mrs. Clinton made a personal appeal to supporters via e-mail.

The former first lady told donors it is “sobering” that Democrats have won just three of the last 10 national elections.

“For me this is intensely personal, because I want to see our country once again not just solving problems, which sounds very pragmatic, but lifting up our sights and finding the promise of our country by once again producing the progress that is truly the American birthright,” she said.

While some were initially concerned Democrats may not come together in time for the Nov. 4 general election, many of the donors leaving the Mayflower Hotel in Northwest said they felt a shift toward unity.

“It was like a celebration,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas told The Washington Times. “We were a family tonight. There was power in the Obama movement, and power in the Clinton movement. Imagine how powerful the two movements are going to be coming together.”

Former Rep. Charles Thomas McMillen of Maryland described the event as “very warm” and said any hard feelings were left behind when Mr. Obama talked about relieving the Clinton debt — more than $10 million owed to vendors. “I didn’t hear any bitterness at all.”

The two Democrats on Friday will campaign together for the first time in Unity, N.H., a town where they each received 107 votes during the January primary.

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