Clinton will formally endorse Obama this weekend

Democratic presidential hopeful US Sen Hillary Clinton will offer a show of support to Sen Barack Obama as she ends her bid for the White House. (GETTY IMAGES)

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign said she would formally end her bid for the White House and endorse Barack Obama, offering a show of support that many Democrats hope will help reunite the party after a divisive and hard-fought battle for the presidential nomination.

Clinton is to make the endorsement in a speech in Washington on Saturday, four days after Obama clinched the nomination following a tight race in which she resolutely refused to back down, even as it appeared her rival had reached the necessary delegates to face off against Republican John McCain.

She spent much of Friday working on her concession speech. Aides described the process as painstaking and emotional but said there was no question Clinton would enthusiastically endorse Obama. Unqualified support from Clinton could help Obama win over her ardent working class and older female supporters.

The two met privately on Thursday evening, though neither campaign has given details on their discussion. California Sen Dianne Feinstein told reporters on Friday that Clinton called her in the afternoon and asked if she and Obama could meet at her home.

The two former rivals arrived and left separately, Feinstein said, and had no staff in the room with them as they talked. Feinstein showed them into her living room, then left them alone and went upstairs to do her own work.

“They called me when it was over,” Feinstein said. “I came down and said, ‘Good night everybody, I hope you had a good meeting.’ They were laughing, and that was it.”

At home in Chicago for the weekend, Obama made a surprise appearance on Friday at a downtown rally promoting Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics and then gave the staff at his campaign headquarters a private pep talk. A reporter outside the closed session heard him say, “If I had lost Iowa, it would have been over.”

She also was holding a party at her Washington home on Friday night to thank and bid farewell to her campaign staff.

Obama is still under pressure from Clinton’s supporters to offer her the vice presidential slot on his ticket. However, he said on Thursday he will not be rushed into a decision.

Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, disavowed efforts by supporters pushing for Obama to choose her, but she has told lawmakers privately that she would be interested in the vice presidential nomination.

Democrat Charles Schumer, the other senator from New York, told ABC television network on Friday that Clinton has said she would be Obama’s running mate if he offers it, but “if he chooses someone else she will work just as hard for the party in November.”

Former North Carolina Sen John Edwards, who earlier dropped out of the Democratic White House race, has ruled out being Obama’s running mate, according to interviews with leading Spanish newspapers El Mundo and El Pais published on Friday. Edwards, who is visiting Madrid, endorsed Obama in May after months of courting by both Democratic hopefuls.

Clinton was once seen as unbeatable for the Democratic presidential nomination, but her hopes of becoming the first woman US president faded as Obama chipped away at her early lead to become the first black presidential nominee from a major US party.

In the latest show of support for Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a high-ranking Democrat who had remained uncommitted throughout the primaries, endorsed him in a statement on Friday, calling the first-term senator “a once-in-a-generation leader.”

Obama told reporters his search for a running mate will be secret. He has chosen a three-person team that includes Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of late President John F Kennedy, to vet potential vice president candidates.

If Obama made Clinton his running mate, it might help him tap into her core supporters, who have so far eluded him, including masses of working-class voters in swing states, Hispanics and older voters, especially women.

Obama’s general election battle against Republican John McCain, a veteran senator who sewed up the Republican nomination in March, is likely to focus on Iraq and McCain’s relationship with the unpopular President George W Bush. McCain backs the war; Obama wants to set a date to pull out US troops.

McCain was airing commercials in battleground states in which he says: “I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe.”

The Republican presidential candidate, who has been running advertisements in key states since late March, will start running the new ad on Friday and Saturday.

“Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war,” McCain says in the ad. “I was shot down over Vietnam and spent five years as a POW (prisoner of war). Some of the friends I served with never came home. I hate war. And I know how terrible its costs are.”