WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Former Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met last night in the capital, a surprise ending to a perfectly abnormal day.
Scheduled to fly home to Chicago after an evening rally in a Northern Virginia amphitheater, Obama diverted to huddle with his longtime primary foe, who is set to endorse him tomorrow, a Democratic source confirmed. Obama's campaign released no details of the discussion.
The session was arranged by staff members for the senators, after Obama on Sunday and again Tuesday expressed a desire to meet face to face. Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, would not say where they met, but said they did not meet at Clinton's Washington home, as some news media had reported.
"Senator Obama and Sen. Clinton did have occasion to meet this evening," Gibbs said. "It's the end of the primary process. They wanted to talk about bringing these campaigns together in unity."
The New York senator is planning to formally endorse Obama tomorrow at a rally with her supporters in Washington. Obama is scheduled to spend the weekend in Chicago with no public events.
The Obama-Clinton meeting was a fitting nightcap for a day that felt, at the start, like so many dozens before it on the campaign trail: a charter flight to a tour bus to a high-school gymnasium pulsing with chants of "Yes we can!" Obama himself would later admit, back on the plane, that the transition at hand had not "sunk in yet." Except that everything had changed. The Obama who showed up on the grassy slopes of southwest Virginia for his first event yesterday was suddenly the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, asterisk-free.
On a steamy early afternoon in a town called Bristol on the edge of the Tennessee state line, the 2008 general election campaign began - for Obama, for his Republican rival, John McCain, for a nation still catching its breath from the wildest Democratic nomination fight in a generation.
The setting and the company were carefully chosen to address what the primary season had shown to be a glaring weakness of Obama's coalition of support: his inability, in so many swing states and particularly in rural areas, to attract working-class white voters. Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a suburban Democrat who built his career courting those voters, noted as much when he introduced the Illinois senator.
"You took a chance on me," Warner told the crowd at Virginia High School, where black and orange paint still marks a state basketball title from 1916. Now, he added a moment later, "I'm asking you and all the people listening, take the time and get to know this man. This is a good man. This is a man of deep faith. This is a man who has spent his life bringing people together." Obama's speech was a bit more focused than usual on economics and health care, issues Warner and current Gov. Tim Kaine rode to victory in a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic president since 1964.
More overtly, Obama signaled his shift to November, when he announced that going forward the Democratic National Committee would eschew contributions from lobbyists and special-interest political action committees. (Democratic congressional committees will continue to accept them, though.)
Obama tapped Paul Tewes, one of his campaign strategists, to help guide the national committee. Meanwhile, Clinton e-mailed supporters to confirm she would endorse her erstwhile rival this weekend.
Jim Tankersley and John McCormick write for the Chicago Tribune.