WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton will end her campaign and endorse Barack Obama on Saturday, a move that comes as her supporters continued to push for her to gain a place on the Democratic ticket as his running mate.
Clinton's decision, which some prominent supporters had urged her to make, is likely to simplify Obama's efforts to unify the party, even as questions remain about her eventual role in his campaign.
Questions about Clinton's intentions had threatened to overshadow Obama's historic achievement in becoming the first African-American candidate to clinch the presidential nomination of a major party. Even some Clinton supporters criticized her for failing to acknowledge Obama's victory in her election-night speech Tuesday after the party's final primaries.
Clinton will host an event in Washington on Saturday to express her support for Obama and Democratic unity, her campaign announced last night.
Asked for his reaction, Obama, who was in New York City for fundraising events, said, "Truth is, I haven't had time to think about it. This weekend, I'm going home, talk it over with Michelle [his wife], and we're going on a date."
The two senators spoke briefly in Washington earlier in the day, and Obama told reporters later that he looked forward to meeting with Clinton in the "coming weeks."
Some Democratic strategists said the best course would be for the former rivals to settle their differences as soon as possible, so the Illinois senator could turn his full attention to Republican John McCain and the general election race.
"Otherwise, it provides another distraction," said Ronald Walters, who helped manage the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign and is now a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. The negotiations with Clinton are "the first challenge" for Obama, who will be unable to focus fully on the fall campaign "if he's got this thing lagging behind."
While keeping an eye on Clinton, the Obama campaign looked ahead to the general election. McCain's and Obama's campaign managers held a telephone discussion after the Arizona senator challenged Obama to a series of town-hall style appearances over the next three months.
Obama's manager, David Plouffe, said in a statement that Obama finds the town-hall idea "appealing" but prefers a "less structured and lengthier" format along the lines of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
McCain proposed 10 weekly appearances around the country, starting June 12 in New York City. A McCain spokeswoman said both camps had "a commitment to raising the level of dialogue" and would stay "in close contact as we work together to make this idea a reality."
Obama also announced the appointment of a vice presidential search team, which includes Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy and niece of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, as well as Eric Holder, a former Clinton administration Justice Department official. The third, previously announced member of the team is Democratic campaign veteran Jim Johnson, who headed John Kerry's vice presidential search team in 2004.
Clinton has said that she is "open" to becoming Obama's running mate, and one of her leading fundraisers, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, began a campaign yesterday to get the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse the idea.
But New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a leading Clinton backer, warned that there was a danger of appearing to pressure Obama into putting her on the ticket.
Rangel also criticized Clinton's election-night performance, which he said could have been "far more generous in terms of being more specific and saying that she wants a Democratic victory." He said he didn't understand "why she could not have been more open in terms of doing up front what she intends to do later."
Another prominent Clinton supporter, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, predicted that Clinton "should and will" concede "in the next week or so."
At stake in the negotiations with Obama would be the terms of Clinton's role in the fall campaign and at the national convention in Denver.
"I think part of her would like to see her delegates get a chance to vote for her in Denver. Not to contest, not to try to change the mind of any superdelegates who've declared or anybody else. But just give her delegates the right to stand up and say, 'We're proud of Hillary Clinton. We worked for her,'" Rendell said on MSNBC.
But Walters, the former Jackson campaign aide, said it would be "playing with fire to let her name be put in nomination. That could turn out very badly and cause floor demonstrations, create just the kind of situation you don't want." The gathering in Denver "is his convention, and they've got to show some muscle."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, an early Clinton supporter, said the New York senator did not need to be rushed to concede.
"Both of them need a break," at least through the weekend, Mikulski said, adding that Obama and Clinton "need time with each other" for a substantive conversation about the role Clinton and her supporters and staff would play.
As for what Clinton wants, "I think right now, she wants a nap," the Maryland Democrat said.
Party leaders, eager to put the primary season divisions behind, urged remaining uncommitted superdelegates to declare their candidate preference by tomorrow.
"Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a joint statement.
Two prominent Maryland Democrats, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, announced their support for Obama yesterday, joining a wave of previously uncommitted super-delegates, including six other senators.
Cardin said the superdelegates "have done exactly what I had hoped they would do" by weighing in at the end to "ratify" the candidacy of the clear winner. At a news conference at national party headquarters, he said his goal now is "to bring as much unity as we can."
He said an Obama-Clinton pairing would be "a great ticket."
Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it was time "to unite behind Barack Obama" so that Democrats "maintain the energy and momentum."
The Montgomery County congressman said it was "very important right now that Senator Obama reach out to Senator Clinton and her supporters."
He also said Clinton "needs to make it clear she is fully behind Senator Obama."
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