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Hillary Bows Out of Presidential Race

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Until today Hillary Clinton was standing between Barack Obama and the White House. This afternoon she vowed to help him get there.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Former Presidential Candidate): As I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SEABROOK: And Senator Clinton urged her supporters to do the same. The former First Lady spoke at the National Building Museum in Washington, and NPR's David Welna was there. David, everyone was wondering whether this would be a full-throated endorsement or a sort of grudging endorsement of Barack Obama. What do you think?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Andrea, I'd say this was about as full throated an endorsement as Obama could ever hope for from Hillary Clinton. And even though she said she was suspending her campaign rather than ending it, one of her aides explained that that's merely a technicality to make sure that all her delegates can go to the convention, and also to be able to keep raising money to retire a nearly $30 million campaign debt.

But, you know, Clinton, I think, was quite unstinting in her backing of Obama, and I think that sent a very important signal to the millions of voters who backed her. You could really hear a new tone from her today. Let's listen to a bit of her speech when she talked about her one-time rival Obama.

Sen. CLINTON: I have been in this campaign with him for 16 months. I have stood on the stage and gone toe-to-toe with him in 22 debates. I've had a front row seat to his candidacy and I have seen his strength and determination, his grace and his grit.

SEABROOK: So, David, I know you got a chance to mingle with some of her supporters afterwards. How'd this pitch go over?

WELNA: Well, you know, she got a lot of applause when she praised Obama but you could also hear some people booing there. There are some Hillary Clinton supporters who clearly were not heeding her call to join her in making sure it's Obama who ends up in the White House next year. And I talked to one of those holdouts after the speech, an African-American woman from Chicago named Gloria Mitchell who said she planned to write in Clinton's name on the ballot rather than vote for Obama.

Ms. GLORIA MITCHELL (Hillary Clinton Supporter): I think the Democratic Party was willing to hijack a process, give Florida voters half a vote in order to crown him king, in order to give him the nomination. They took votes away from Hillary in Michigan to give it to him, so that makes his candidacy contaminated.

WELNA: You know, Andrea, my sense from speaking to many others in the crowd was that the thumbs down on Obama that you just heard was not at all the general sentiment. Much more typical was this college professor from Philadelphia, named Thelova Radanuchi(ph), who said she worked day and night for six weeks to help Clinton win the Pennsylvania primary.

Professor THELOVA RADANUCHI (Hillary Clinton Supporter): I am broadly disappointed as a women; I am deeply disappointed as a mother. I loved her speech. I think she personifies everything that's great about us as Americans. No question about it. But she, I think, is right. We must have a Democratic president, we must have a Democratic president and we must have a Democratic president.

SEABROOK: David, the big question now, of course, in terms of Hillary Clinton is what about her future? What does she do next?

WELNA: Well, you know, today she said nothing being about Obama's running mate, but that's clearly what a lot of her supporters were hoping to hear today. She did say that she'd work her heart out to make sure that Obama is the next president. But she also said she's just going to count her blessings and, you know, keep doing what she's been doing long before the cameras showed up: public service.

And she does, after all, have another four years left in her term as a U.S. senator from New York. And she made clear that working for universal health care coverage would be a top priority of hers.

Sen. CLINTON: This isn't just an issue for me. It is a passion and a cause and it is a fight. I will continue until every single American is insured. No exceptions and no excuses.

SEABROOK: And, of course, there's been a lot of talk about the possibility of her vice presidential chances and even a meeting between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton a couple of days ago. But no word about that in the speech, David.

WELNA: There was nothing, and I think that she realizes that if she were to push this publicly it would put Obama in a position of looking as if he were being forced into choosing her. And I think it would've been counterproductive for her to mention it. But it certainly was being mentioned by people in the crowd.

SEABROOK: Now, let's turn to the last part of the speech. Very important - at least the last half even of the speech - was this idea of the candidacy of a woman. Let's listen to a little sound where Hillary Clinton spoke about the campaign to get a woman into the White House.

Sen. CLINTON: Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SEABROOK: David, she spoke a lot about this idea in her speech.

WELNA: Yes. And in fact, the majority of people, the vast majority of people in the conference were women, and many of them said that it was the fact that she was a woman and that there had never before been a woman who had gotten so close to the presidency that had cheered them on as well. And they were shattered by this, and I think she really had to sort of boost these women up and say, you know, we got to keep going; we got very close. But it's now clear that it's possible for a woman to have gotten as far as I did.

SEABROOK: NPR's David Welna, thanks very much for joining me.

WELNA: You're welcome, Andrea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.