Clinton plays down desire to join Democrat ticket in bid to restore party unity

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Pressured by leaders in her party, Hillary Clinton delivered an email to her supporters yesterday pledging to acknowledge Barack Obama's claim to the Democratic nomination at an event in Washington tomorrow. Hours later, her campaign team added that she was not pressing to be picked by Mr Obama as his running mate.

"I wanted you to be one of the first to know," the overnight email said. "I will be speaking on Saturday about how together we can rally the party behind Senator Obama. The stakes are too high and the task before us too important to do otherwise."

The twin moves were designed to dampen criticism that she was impeding party unity by failing to bow to Mr Obama's historic victory in the nomination race and that she was muddying things further by allowing the impression that she felt the number two slot on the ticket should be hers.

Mrs Clinton by no means closed the door on being picked as the vice-presidential nominee in the future, but disassociated herself from the efforts of several of her supporters to pressure Mr Obama on the issue. "She is not seeking the vice-presidency, and no one speaks for her but her," a statement issued by her communications director, Howard Wolfson, said. "The choice here is Senator Obama's alone."

First word of her decision formally to end her quest and endorse her erstwhile foe began to leak late on Wednesday as Mr Obama was starring at two fundraisers in New York.

"Your junior senator from New York engaged in an extraordinary campaign," Mr Obama told the donors. "Now that the interfamily squabble is done, all of us can focus on what needs to be done in November."

But the delay in Mrs Clinton leaving the stage has left a bad taste. "Kicking and screaming, Hillary ends quest for prez" was the front-page headline in yesterday's New York Post. And anxiety remains over her intentions. Will she disappear from the stage altogether? Unlikely.

Mrs Clinton, who will bid farewell to staff at her Arlington, Virginia, headquarters today, will not shutter her campaign, but rather "suspend" it. That is not unusual for a retiring candidate but implies that, instead of releasing her 1,922 delegates, she will retain them as leverage in negotiations on the party's platform and a possible role for her in an Obama administration.

The campaign launched by some of her backers to ensure her the number two slot had quickly hit headwinds. Others in the party openly criticised the effort. Mr Obama put the brakes on it himself by appointing on Wednesday a three-person "Veep-search" committee, clearly indicating that he wants to consider others and intends to take his time.

Ed Rendell, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and one of Mrs Clinton's most important supporters during the primary contests, made plain his own reservations about an Obama-Clinton ticket. "The rule for the vice-president is make sure you never upstage the president," Mr Rendell said. "Hillary Clinton ... couldn't help but upstage, even if she was trying not to."

Even those who think she deserves the number two slot should beware squeezing Mr Obama, said another of her key supporters, Congressman Charles Rangel. "I don't think the way to get Obama to [choose] Clinton would be to put pressure on him. I think it would have the opposite effect."

Details of Saturday's event, including where it would be held, were still missing last night. And there is still no confirmation on when the two former opponents will meet to discuss future plans.

It may not be until then that Mrs Clinton puts whatever cards she has left on the table. Assuming she wants to be his running mate, she may be disappointed. But other demands could include being given a prominent speaking role at the Democratic Convention to present her own preferences for the party platform, for instance on universal health care. She could also angle for a top spot in a putative Obama White House.

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