Rivals turned allies, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton made a display of unity Friday in a hamlet named for it, their first joint public appearance since the divisive Democratic primary race ended.
"To anyone who voted for me and is now considering not voting or voting for Senator (John) McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider," said Clinton, the loser in a marathon Democratic nomination fight, as she implored her supporters to join with Obama’s "to create an unstoppable force for change we can all believe in."
In turn, Obama praised both Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton, as allies and pillars of the Democratic Party. "We need them. We need them badly," Obama said. "Not just my campaign, but the American people need their service and their vision and their wisdom in the months and years to come because that’s how we’re going to bring about unity in the Democratic Party. And that’s how we’re going to bring about unity in America."
Moments earlier, the two snaked their way through some 6,000 people who gathered in a wide-open field and overflowed some bleacher seats in this town of 1,700.
This was a carefully chosen venue in a key general election battleground state: Unity awarded exactly 107 votes to each candidate in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in January. Obama clinched the nomination June 3 and Clinton suspended her campaign four days later.
Friday’s joint 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. Both were mindful of the need for the entire Democratic Party to swing behind Obama as he faces McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting, in the general election.
At a private appearance with Obama in Washington on Thursday, Clinton encouraged her top fundraisers to help Obama. She went one step further on Friday: Both Clintons, Hillary and Bill, made the maximum $2,300 donation to Obama’s campaign Friday in an online transaction, aides said.
In New Hampshire, Clinton and Obama took the stage together.
"Unity is not only a beautiful place as we can see, it’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it? And I know when we start here in this field in Unity, we’ll end on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president," Clinton said from a podium as Obama sat next to her on a stool, coatless with his white shirt sleeves rolled up. She wore a powder blue pantsuit; he wore a light blue tie.
Wasting little time pressing Obama’s case, Clinton noted that McCain and the GOP probably hoped she wouldn’t join forces with Obama.
"But I’ve got news for them: We are one party; we are one America, and we are not going to rest until we take back our country and put it once again on the path to peace, prosperity and progress in the 21st century," Clinton said to cheers.
Echoing Obama’s pitch, Clinton said McCain offered nothing more than a continuation of President Bush’s policies.
"In the end, Senator McCain and President Bush are like two sides of the same coin, and it doesn’t amount to a whole lot of change," Clinton said. "If you think we need a new course, a new agenda, then vote for Barack Obama and you will get the change that you need and deserve."
Obama heaped praise on Clinton when it was his turn to speak.
"For 16 months, Sen. Clinton and I have shared the stage as rivals for the nomination, but today I could not be happier and more honored and more moved that we’re sharing this stage as allies to bring about the fundamental changes that this country so desperately needs," Obama said. "Hillary and I may have started with separate goals in this campaign, but we made history together."
Obama is seeking to become the country’s first black president; Clinton had sought to become the first woman to win the White House.
"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," Obama added, responding to cheers from the crowd. "I know firsthand how good she is, how tough she is, how passionate she is, how committed she is the causes that brought all of us here today."
Each needs the other now.
Obama needed the 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; she did that this week. Clinton won convincingly among several voter groups during the primaries, including working class voters and older women — groups that McCain has actively courted since she left the race.
Clinton, for her part, needs the Illinois senator’s help in paying down $10 million of her campaign debt, and Obama has asked his supporters to help retire her debt. And she certainly doesn’t want Obama to lose and have some of his supporters blame her.
She also wants assurance she will be treated respectfully as a top surrogate on the campaign trail and at the Democratic convention later this summer. Some of Clinton’s supporters want her name placed in nomination for a roll call vote at the Denver convention, an effort she hasn’t formally discouraged.
Campaigning in Youngstown, Ohio, McCain told reporters he understood the Democrats’ effort to unite, but he also believes he is making inroads in attracting disgruntled Democrats. He noted a woman at a town-hall style meeting Thursday in Cincinnati who wore a "Hillary" hat as she asked him a question.
"Obviously, I have to get Republican votes, independent votes and the old and new Reagan Democrats," McCain said Friday after touring a General Motors car factory in Lordstown, Ohio.
Associated Press Writer Beth Fouhy contributed to this story.