The air was thick with symbolism yesterday as Hillary Clinton pledged her support to Barack Obama in their first public appearance since he clinched the Democratic nomination for the White House three weeks ago.
The former rivals travelled together to the tiny town of Unity, New Hampshire where back in the mists of political time – the January primary – they fought each other to a draw, each winning 107 votes. Mrs Clinton famously won the New Hampshire primary, delivering the first of many setbacks to Mr Obama.
"We had a spirited dialogue," Mrs Clinton told a rally filled to capacity, adding that it was the nicest way she could think of describing their rivalry on the campaign trail. Her generous speech, with Mr Obama sitting in shirtsleeves by her side, was greeted with laughter and applause along with chants of "Obama, Obama" followed by "Hillary, Hillary". Whether by accident or design, Mr Obama wore a tie that matched Mrs Clinton's blue trouser suit perfectly.
The sun-drenched rally in Unity was the sort of kumbaya moment many Democrats had been waiting for, and it was one of many signals to Democratic voters that the time has come to focus on the battle ahead with Republican candidate John McCain. Even the plane on which the two former rivals flew to New Hampshire was the one that ferried Mrs Clinton around the country as she desperately sought to deny Mr Obama the nomination.
"New Hampshire has a special place in my heart," Mrs Clinton said, "and I'm here to ensure that come November, New Hampshire will have a special place in Barack Obama's heart as well. This was a hard-fought primary campaign, and we have gone toe to toe but today and every day going forward, we stand shoulder to shoulder for the values we share and the country we love."
She added: "We may have started on separate paths but today our paths have merged. Today we are coming together ... to elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States."
Difficult as it was for Mrs Clinton to appear on stage with her former rival, they share an urgent need to bring the warring tribes of Democrats together if they are to defeat Senator McCain. Mrs Clinton went on to attack Mr McCain as being "four years more" of George Bush's policies. "They are like two sides of the same coin and it doesn't amount to a whole lot of change," she quipped. "Vote for Senator McCain and you will definitely get more of the same. Vote for Barack Obama and you will get the change that you need and deserve."
In an appeal to her own supporters, she added: "And to any one who voted for me and is now considering not voting, or voting for McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider. Remember who we are standing for in this election. I know he will work for you, he will fight for you and he will stand up for you every single day in the White House."
Mr Obama was no less complimentary. "She rocks, she rocks," he said, as Mrs Clinton blushed beetroot-red. "I am proud to call her a friend," he added, "and I know how much we need both Bill and Hillary Clinton. We need them, we need them badly – not just my campaign but the American people need them in the months and years to come."
Praising Mrs Clinton's abilities as a leader, he said she had demonstrated that "women can do anything that boys can do and do it better and do it in heels," adding: "I still don't know how she does it in heels."
Mr Obama needed the former first lady to signal to her 18 million voters and her financial donors that it was not a betrayal to back her former rival. She is popular where Mr Obama is weakest: among working-class voters and older women. Both are groups that Mr McCain has been courting assiduously.
The Unity event was the latest manifestation of a mutual-assistance pact under which Mrs Clinton has agreed to campaign for Mr Obama in states where she defeated him, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. In return, he will help her repay the $22m (£11m) debt she ran up during her campaign. It is thought unlikely he will invite Mrs Clinton to be his vice-presidential running mate, but complicated negotiations are under way to ensure a bright political future for her in the years ahead.
Crucially, Mrs Clinton's fundraisers, known as "Hillraisers", have come to terms with Mr Obama and have agreed to raise money for the Democratic Party. To ease the process, Mr Obama and his wife Michelle made a symbolic contribution of $4,600 towards Mrs Clinton's campaign debts (the maximum allowable personal contribution), at an event in Washington on Thursday.Reuse content