Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sen. Clinton, down but not out, bucking for VP bid?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton says she's not out, but with rival Sen. Barack Obama securing his long-held lead, many are asking what she plans to do next.

Sen. Hillary Clinton says Tuesday she will let her supporters and party leaders decide her course.

1 of 2 Both candidates were in Washington on Wednesday, first to each address the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and later when they are both expected in the Senate for a budget vote.

Obama became his party's presumptive nominee Tuesday and will be looking to unite Democrats divided by the long and contentious primary season.

"She's an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party, and has made history alongside me over the last 16 months. I'm very proud to have competed against her," Obama told the Israel lobbying group Wednesday.

Some say putting Clinton on the ticket might fit the bill for uniting Democrats, but the former first lady promised Tuesday that she wouldn't make an immediate decision on her future.

"Now, the question is: Where do we go from here?" she asked supporters Tuesday at New York's Baruch College. "And given how far we've come and where we need to go as a party, it's a question I don't take lightly. This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight."

Clinton lavished her opponent with praise, saying he ran an "extraordinary race" and made politics more palatable for many. Watch how the primary played out »

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"Sen. Obama has inspired so many Americans to care about politics and empowered so many more to get involved," she said. "Our party and our democracy is stronger and more vibrant as a result. So we are grateful."

But with some Democrats clamoring for her to join Obama on the ticket, and with the Democratic National Convention -- and thus, the official anointment -- still more than two months out, the senator from New York gave no hint as to her plan. See VP prospects' pros, cons »

She again invoked the popular vote, saying she snared "more votes than any primary candidate in history," but primaries come down to delegates, and according to CNN calculations, Obama has her whipped, 2,156 to 1,923. Watch why some Clinton faithful aren't ready to back Obama »

Even the White House seemed convinced of Obama's victory. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday that President Bush congratulated Obama on becoming the first black White House nominee from a major party. She said his win shows the United States "has come a long way."

But Clinton's supporters seemed undeterred Tuesday, chanting as she spoke, "Yes, she will! Yes, she will!"

But now Clinton will have to ask herself, will what?

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Bob Johnson's letter to Rep. James Clyburn (PDF)
She vowed to keep fighting for an end to the war in Iraq, for universal health care, for a stronger economy and better energy policy, but she didn't indicate in what capacity she would wage these battles. That, she said, would be up to her supporters and the party brass. See what lies in store this fall »

"This has always been your campaign," she said. " I hope you'll go to my Web site at and share your thoughts with me and help in any way that you can. And in the coming days, I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way."

The party's best interests were high on the minds of party leaders Wednesday, as Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and DNC Chairman Howard Dean called on Democrats to focus on the general election. Watch Obama liken electing Sen. John McCain to re-electing Bush »

"To that end, we are urging all remaining uncommitted superdelegates to make their decisions known by Friday of this week so that our party can stand united and begin our march toward reversing the eight years of failed Bush/McCain policies that have weakened our country," said a statement from the four.

Billionaire businessman Bob Johnson, a close Clinton adviser and friend, told CNN's "American Morning" on Wednesday that Obama could best forge party unity by offering Clinton the vice presidential slot.

A day after the final two primaries in South Dakota and Montana, Johnson sent a letter to House Majority Whip James Clyburn to lobby the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse Clinton as Obama's running mate. Read the letter (PDF)

Saying Clinton would "entertain the idea if it's offered," Johnson told CNN, "This is Sen. Obama's decision. If the Congress members can come together and agree as I do that it would be in the best interest of the party to have Sen. Clinton on the ticket, they carry that petition to Sen. Obama." Watch how the world reacted to Obama's win »

"This is not a pressure. This is elected officials giving their best judgment," said Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television.

Johnson's letter to Clyburn says, "You know as well as I the deep affection that millions of African-Americans hold for both Senator Clinton and President Clinton."

It continues, "But most important, we need to have the certainty of winning; and, I believe, without question, that Barack Obama as president and Hillary Clinton as vice president bring that certainty to the ticket." Watch Johnson urge Obama to pick Clinton »

Johnson is one of many influential Clinton supporters, including Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who have raised the prospect of her joining Obama on the ticket. They say she has solid credentials and wide appeal, exemplified by her popular support in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, which will be crucial to a Democratic victory in the fall.

Obama and Clinton spoke by phone for a few minutes Wednesday. He told her he wants to "sit down when it makes sense" for her, said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Clinton said that would happen soon, Gibbs said, but he also said Obama did not raise the issue of the vice presidency. Clinton campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe confirmed there had been "absolutely zero discussions" on the matter. Watch how an Obama/Clinton dream team might fare against McCain »

The Clinton campaign issued a statement saying she was open to becoming vice president.

"She would do whatever she could to ensure that Democrats take the White House back and defeat John McCain," the statement said.

Though he made no allusions to his possible running mate, Obama had high praise Tuesday for his rival and downplayed division between the two camps.

The country and the party "are better off because of her," he said of Clinton, adding that she is driven by "an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be."

"And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country -- and we will win that fight -- she will be central to that victory," he said.
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All About U.S. Presidential Election • Democratic Party • Hillary Clinton • Barack Obama

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