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When Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton step onstage in their first joint campaign appearance in New Hampshire, it will be the first public display of a rapprochement between former rivals hoping to set aside differences and unify the party while helping each other.
Following a private fundraiser with Clinton’s top donors in Washington on Thursday, the two were to fly together Friday aboard Obama’s campaign plane to a 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 her $10 million 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.
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 Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, told reporters Thursday that the former president was ready to go "24-7" if necessary to help Obama defeat McCain in November.
"He’s willing to do whatever it takes. Winning the White House is of paramount importance, not only to Hillary but of course to President Clinton," McAuliffe said.