Wounds inflicted during the long Democratic primary battle are begrudgingly healing, as prominent supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s failed presidential bid are beginning to voice support for Sen. Barack Obama.
Ellen R. Malcolm, founder and president Emily’s List, an influential Democratic women’s political advocacy group that endorsed Mrs. Clinton for president, on Thursday called for party unity and urged Clinton supporters to back Mr. Obama.
“I’ve been meandering my way through the various stages of grief” over Mrs. Clinton’s failure to win the nomination, Ms. Malcolm said at the group’s annual luncheon at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel. “But I will follow the lead of Hillary Clinton by saying, it’s time to come together.”
Emily’s List, one of the nation’s most liberal and largest political advocacy groups for women, only endorses pro-choice Democratic women for office. But Ms. Malcolm said she spoke with Mr. Obama on June 6 and told him she would “do all I could to help unite our party and keep [the presumptive Republican presidential nominee] John McCain from being elected president.”
Her message was enthusiastically received by most of the 800 members and supporters in attendance.
“I think women Democrats are definitely going to come together and support Senator Obama for the office of president - but it might take us more time,” said Deborah J. Israel, a Washington attorney and Clinton supporter. “But what Emily’s List did today, at least for me, was help move the healing process along faster.
“While I was emotionally invested in Hillary Clinton, I am a Democrat.”
Two Democratic governors who backed Mrs. Clinton and helped deliver her primary victories in their battleground states will appear Friday with Mr. Obama. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland will greet him in Columbus, and the Illinois senator plans to join Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in Philadelphia.
Another prominent Clinton backer, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, on Monday introduced Mr. Obama at a campaign stop in Raleigh.
Meanwhile, the McCain camp is actively wooing disgruntled Clinton supporters and “security moms” - women concerned about national security issues who voted for George W. Bush for president in 2004.
Mr. McCain has publicly praised the New York senator in recent days, saying in an interview with ABC television that he respects Mrs. Clinton and that she has “inspired women all over the world, including in this country.”
“We’d obviously love to have the support and are getting some of that support,” he added.
Former Hewlett-Packard executive and McCain backer Carly Fiorina was scheduled to meet Thursday evening with Clinton supporters in Ohio. She and Mr. McCain also have scheduled a Saturday teleconference with Clinton backers and others.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent who has endorsed Mr. McCain, also has urged Clinton backers, as well as other Democrats and independents, to consider voting for the Arizona senator.
“Millions of women voters who were united behind Senator Clinton are now deciding which candidate to support, [and] John McCain’s bipartisan record of fighting for hardworking American families and protecting our national security make him well positioned to fight for each one of those votes,” said McCain campaign spokeswoman Crystal Benton.
For all of Mr. Obama’s primary success and rock starlike attention, some Democratic lawmakers in politically conservative regions of the country have been reluctant to join the Obama bandwagon.
Rep. Dan Boren, the only congressional Democrat in Oklahoma, calls Mr. Obama “the most liberal senator” in Congress and says he has no plans to make a public endorsement.
Rep. Jim Marshall, Georgia Democrat and Vietnam veteran, said he admires both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain but feels no obligation to state a preference.
The Democratic Party still risks the defection of many Clinton supporters upset over the party’s decision May 31 to award her only half of the delegates she claimed in the disputed Florida and Michigan primaries.
Some ardent Clinton backers who accused the party of failing to defend Mrs. Clinton against what they say was sexist and misogynistic treatment of her by the media and Republicans also have vowed not to support Mr. Obama.
Allida Black, a George Washington University professor and Clinton supporter, said she won’t vote for Mr. McCain but added “Obama has to earn me” before she’ll support him.
“I have simmering fury and a mixture of defiant joy,” said Ms. Black at the Emily’s List luncheon.
“I’m furious at the process, I’m furious that the Democratic leadership allowed Senator Clinton to be vilified in the media in a way that they never would’ve allowed Senator Obama to be chastised or mocked or ridiculed.”
But former Clinton backer Jerri Shaw of Columbia, Md., said supporting Mr. Obama is “the right thing to do.”
“I always knew I would work for the Democrat, no matter who,” said Ms. Shaw, who campaigned for Mrs. Clinton in seven states
. “Every person I know who worked for Clinton is heartbroken and taking some time to grief - and will be there working for Obama.”
Clinton supporter Cynthia Currin of Redwood City, Calif., who also attended the luncheon, said electing Mr. Obama to the White House is now her main political priority.
“As time wore on, what I really wanted was to see more unity in the party and not allow the Republican Party to tear us apart,” she said. “I think we’re at this point where we’re moving forward.”
*This article is based in part on wire service reports.