Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared together today for the first time since their battle for the Democrat presidential nomination.
Mrs Clinton, once considered the inevitable Democratic nominee, praised Mr Obama for “his grace and his grit” at the rally in a town chosen for the symbolism of its name – Unity.
She added that Mr Obama’s White House rival John McCain and the Republican Party had probably hoped the two Democrats would not join forces against them in the November elections.
A day after introducing Mr Obama to some of her top financial backers, Mrs Clinton encouraged her supporters to join with him “to create an unstoppable force for change we can all believe in.”
The venue was carefully chosen in a general election battleground state. Unity awarded exactly 107 votes to each candidate in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in January, though Mrs Clinton actually took the state.
As she spoke from a podium, Mr Obama, who is competing against Mr McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, sat next to her on a stool.
The appearance capped a turbulent Democratic primary season and tense post-race transition as the two went from foes to friends – at least publicly.
This was the most visible event in a series of gestures the two senators have made over the past week to heal the hard feelings – between themselves as well as among their backers – born from the acrimonious nomination fight.
Both were mindful of the need for the entire Democratic Party to swing behind Mr Obama as he faces Mr McCain, a veteran senator they have both cast as offering nothing more than a continuation of George Bush’s unpopular presidency.
Mr Obama praised both Mrs Clinton and her husband, President Bill Clinton, as allies and pillars of the Democratic Party.
The former first lady has taken decisive strides to strike a chord of harmony with Mr Obama, recently speaking in support of the Illinois senator.
But their nomination fight cast a pall on relations with her husband, with Mr Obama once complaining that he was not sure who he was running against.
Bill Clinton, through a spokesman, has said he would back Mr Obama, but his comments have been far more subdued that those of his wife. Mr Obama’s mention of both Clintons could go a long way to smoothing over relations and winning support in a party where the retains a devoted following.
Mr Obama is depending on Mrs Clinton to give her voters and donors a clear signal that she does not consider it a betrayal for them to shift their loyalty his way.
Mrs Clinton won convincingly among several voter groups during the primaries, including working-class voters and older women – groups that Mr McCain has actively courted since she left the race.
Mrs Clinton, for her part, needs the Illinois senator’s help in paying 10 million dollars 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.
Pressing Mr Obama’s case from the start, Mrs Clinton urged any of her backers who are considering not voting, or of voting for Mr McCain instead of Obama, to reconsider.
Mindful that he needs her backing, Mr Obama spoke of his former rival warmly.
“For 16 months, Senator Clinton and I have shared the stage as rivals for the nomination, but today I could not be happier and more honoured and more moved that we’re sharing this stage as allies to bring about the fundamental changes that this country so desperately needs,” Mr Obama said. “Hillary and I may have started with separate goals in this campaign, but we made history together.”
“I’ve admired her as a leader, I’ve learned from her as a candidate. She rocks. She rocks. That’s the point I’m trying to make,” Mr Obama said in response to cheers from the crowd.
Meanwhile, Mr McCain chastised Obama for claiming that his Republican rival would appoint a conservative Supreme Court that would be detrimental to women’s rights.
The Hill, a political newspaper in Washington DC, reported yesterday that Mr Obama made the comment last week during a private meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I respect Senator Obama and I admire his success, and I will conduct a respectful campaign,” Mr McCain said today after touring a General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio. “That kind of a statement or allegation is not worthy of Senator Obama or worthy of the debate that the American people want and deserve.”
An Obama spokesman said he had no immediate comment on the report.
Mr McCain also repeated his call for face-to-face town-hall meetings with Mr Obama.