Disappointed Hillary Clinton Asks Party to Unite

Everyone knew it would be a loaded speech—especially Hillary Clinton. Almost 16 months after launching her bid for the presidency, she brought it to a close in Washington on Saturday, thanking her supporters and throwing her "full support" behind the party's presumptive nominee. "I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me," she said.

Hillary approached the podium in Washington's National Building Museum with an air of melancholy, in spite of the large crowd of cheering supporters. She started her speech acknowledging that circumstances were less than ideal. "Well, this isn't exactly the party I planned but I sure like the company."

Clinton was acutely aware that her words and facial expressions would be closely magnified, but at times it seemed she couldn't hide her disappointment. "She's obviously really bummed," a junior campaign staffer told NEWSWEEK. Prior to the campaign's widely publicized endgame, Clinton invited about 150 staffers over the night before for a small get together at her home, where she looked "upbeat" and "happy." "She's always in a really fun mood, so it's tough to tell how she's really feeling," said the same staffer, who was not authorized, even at the campaign's end, to discuss the inner workings of the campaign.

Following Clinton's unique non-concession speech on Tuesday at the official close of the primary season, many supporters, including colleagues on Capitol Hill, called on her to speak sooner rather than later for the sake of the party. Rep. Barney Frank vowed to support Clinton until the very end, but he told the campaign on a mid-week conference call that she should concede and announce her support of Obama as soon as possible. She said she would.

But when she did, she managed to do so without using the words "concede," or "concession" at all. Instead, she said that she wanted to "congratulate Obama for his victory and the extraordinary race he has run." And then, Clinton's chosen phrase to express finality was to say that she would "suspend" her campaign. Some political insiders think the term "suspend" could indicate her desire keep all 1,932 delegates so she would be recognized at the party's convention in Denver. Campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee cautioned reporters not to read too far into it, saying that Clinton hasn't decided how to proceed with her delegates.

Security officials estimated 2,000 people showed up to see Clinton's curtain call, many of whom said they waited in line for hours in Washington's notorious humidity to pay tribute to Clinton's historic bid. Once inside, one dazed supporter said she felt a deep despair and disappointment knowing that this was the end of the campaign's road. "I'm depressed, that's all I can really say."

As expected, the meat of Clinton's speech was her endorsement of Obama, who sealed up the nomination on Tuesday night after he earned the majority of the party's delegates. After such a long and divisive series of primary elections, Clinton's support of the Illinois senator was considered to be the first—and most important—step for the party to rally together to face the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in November. "We may have started on separate journeys—but today, our paths have merged," Clinton said, referencing her former disagreements with Obama. "And we are all heading toward the same destination, united and more ready than ever to win."

But to some supporters, it wasn't enough. "It doesn't matter what she says here," said Lee Richmond, who had voted for Hillary and drove from Baltimore to hear the speech. "Voting for president is a big deal. "I still want to hear what he says. He hasn't said very much yet." Another supporter said she was reluctant to consider Obama and wasn't yet convinced that Clinton truly meant her endorsement of the Illinois senator. "She just ran against this guy for over a year, supporting him now is something that she has to say."

That's exactly it, said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. "It has to be a full-throated endorsement because she has no choice; she still has ambitions," he said. Many who came to see Clinton speak said that the vice presidency would be nice, with one supporter saying he didn't want to "jinx her chances" by talking about it. Clinton told lawmakers early in the week that she was "open" to the idea before meeting privately with Obama on Thursday evening. Campaign spokesman Elleithee said his candidate is not interfering in the selection process and there have been no official discussions. Supporters also buzzed about Clinton being nominated as a Supreme Court justice should Obama win this fall, and, of course, another presidential bid in 2012.

For now, Clinton's speech expressed few reservations about an Obama presidency. Her speech made generous references to Obama as "the next president" and at one point, she began listing what she said were the country's biggest problems (health care, high energy prices, the war in Iraq) following each bullet point with a shout "and that's why we need to help elect Barack Obama president!" The gesture of throwing her movement's support behind Obama was more than history has required of political second place-ers. In 1976, Ronald Reagan did the bare minimum in his half-hearted endorsement of Gerald Ford, and did very little when asked to campaign for him. And, says Sabato, "look what happened to him."

Clinton clearly was looking to her political future. But this one day in Washington was clearly an odd experience for the Clinton family, which hasn't had to make a formal political concession since 1980 when Bill lost his reelection bid as governor of Arkansas. Of course, surrendering quietly is also not very Clinton-like. Bill did fight back and the voters returned him to office two years later.