Obama, Clinton to campaign together today in N.H.
|Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. hugs Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at Washington's Reagan National Airport, Friday, June 27, 2008.|
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) -- Putting their political turbulence behind them, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton began a show of unity Friday aboard Obama's campaign plane as it carried them to New Hampshire for their first public appearance together since the primary race ended.
After greeting each other with a handshake and a kiss on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport, the former foes settled into the second row of the MD-80 plane, Obama at the window and Clinton on the aisle. They were smiling and gesturing to one another as they boarded the plane - Clinton in a powder blue pantsuit and Obama wearing a tie of a nearly identical shade - and spent the entire flight, just over an hour, talking animatedly.
The topic was anyone's guess - their aides and about 20 members of the media traveling on the plane were left out of the conversation. Ahead lay a rally in New Hampshire, where the goal will be to set aside differences and unify the Democratic party while helping each other.
Clinton has already loaned Obama her top fundraisers, and now the two senators rivals are going to see if she can do the same with her supporters.
Following a private fundraiser with Clinton's top donors in Washington on Thursday, the two were heading to the rally in Unity, N.H., population 1,700 - a carefully chosen venue in a key general election battleground state.
Aside from the symbolism of its name, Unity awarded exactly 107 votes to each candidate in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary in January. Clinton narrowly won the state's contest, setting in motion an epic coast-to-coast war of attrition between the two candidates that ended June 3, when Obama clinched the nomination. Clinton suspended her campaign four days later.
The Unity gathering was the latest and most visible event in a series of gestures the two senators have made in the past two days in hopes of settling the hard feelings of the long primary season. Clinton also praised Obama before two major interest groups Thursday - the American Nurses Association, which endorsed her during the primaries, and NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.
Both Democrats badly need one another right now as they move to the next phase of the campaign.
Obama is depending on former first lady to give her voters and donors a clear signal that she doesn't consider it a betrayal for them to shift their loyalty his way. Clinton won convincingly among several voter groups during the primaries, including working class voters and older women - groups that Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain has actively courted since she left the race.
Clinton, for her part, needs the Illinois senator's help in paying down $10 million of her campaign debt, plus an assurance that she will be treated respectfully as a top surrogate on the campaign trail and at the Democratic Party convention later this summer. Some of her supporters want Clinton's name to be placed in nomination for a roll call vote at the Denver convention, an effort she hasn't formally discouraged.
Thursday, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the New York senator urged about 200 of her top donors and fundraisers - many of whom have been openly critical of Obama's campaign and its perceived slights against Clinton during the primaries - to get behind her erstwhile rival and help him. Obama announced last week he would forgo public financing in the general election, guaranteeing he would need considerable fundraising help in the months to come.
Obama assured the group he would help Clinton retire her debt - an announcement that drew a standing ovation in the room, according to participants. He also wrote a personal check of $4,600 toward that goal - $2,300 each for himself and his wife, Michelle, the maximum allowed under federal law.
"I'm going to need Hillary by my side campaigning during his election, and I'm going to need all of you," Obama said.
He also expressed concern about the sometimes sexist treatment of Clinton during the primary campaign and said Michelle was on the receiving end of such treatment now.
Three top Clinton aides - attorneys Cheryl Mills and Robert Barnett, and longtime confidante Minyon Moore - have been negotiating the details of her future involvement. They've made the case to the Obama campaign that Clinton can spend more time campaigning for him this summer if she isn't working to pay off her debts.
Obama finance chairwoman Penny Pritzker sent an e-mail to the campaign's finance committee Wednesday making a direct pitch.
"Barack has asked each of us to collect five or six checks to help Senator Clinton repay the people who provided goods and services to her campaign," Pritzker wrote. "He made this request in the spirit of party unity. Senator Clinton has promised to do everything she can to help us beat John McCain."
Pritzker also wrote a $4,600 check toward the effort Thursday on behalf of herself and her husband.
Clinton's campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, said he would still like to see Obama tap Clinton to be his running mate, but Clinton will campaign hard for her former rival regardless.
"Whatever he decides to do, whatever role for Hillary, she is ready to go, and she will do whatever they ask her to do in the fall campaign," McAuliffe told CNN Friday.
Bill Clinton's role in Obama's campaign is still a work in progress, even though he issued a brief statement of support through a spokesman earlier this week.
But McAuliffe told reporters Thursday that the former president was ready to go "24-7" if necessary to help Obama defeat McCain in November.