The Democratic Party began to unite around presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Thursday as President Barack Obama formally endorsed her candidacy and rival Bernie Sanders signaled he will soon drop out of the contest.
In his endorsement, Obama called his former secretary of state possibly the most qualified person ever to run for president of the United States.
“She’s got the courage, the compassion, and the heart to get the job done,” Obama said in a video released by Clinton’s campaign. “I have seen her judgment. I’ve seen her toughness. I’ve seen her commitment to our values up close. And I’ve seen her determination to give every American a fair shot at opportunity, no matter how tough the fight — that’s what’s always driven her, and still does.”
The long-expected endorsement came after Obama and Sanders met for more than an hour at the White House two days after Clinton secured enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination after a lengthy fight with the Vermont senator.
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Sanders and Obama appeared in good spirits as they walked together to the Oval Office, smiling and talking. Afterward, Sanders told reporters that he would stay in the contest through the final primary in Washington, D.C., next Tuesday.
But in another sign that the primary battle was coming to an end, Sanders’ remarks focused not on Clinton, but on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Sanders said he spoke to Clinton Tuesday night, when she declared herself the nominee.
“I congratulated her on her very strong campaign,” he said. “I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent.”
Obama and Clinton will campaign together Wednesday in Green Bay, Wis. — a battleground state that Obama won twice.
Obama’s endorsement was an important step toward ending what had been a divisive Democratic primary season, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey.
“It sends a clear message to all Democratic leaders who have been quiet that it is now safe to come out in the open,” Murray said. “And that avalanche will in turn send a message to Sanders’ supporters that it is indeed over.”
Although he stopped short of endorsing Clinton, the Vermont senator told reporters he planned to press for his “issues” — rather than victory — at the party’s July convention.
At an evening campaign rally at Washington’s RFK Stadium, Sanders barely mentioned next Tuesday’s primary election in the city, the last on the Democratic primary calendar. But he concluded: “It would be extraordinary if the people of Washington, our nation’s capital, stood up and told the world that they are ready to lead this country into a political revolution.”
In another sign of Democratic unification, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also endorsed Clinton. Warren had been the only holdout among the Senate’s Democratic women.
“I am ready to get in this fight and work my heart out for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States and to make sure that Donald Trump never gets anyplace close to the White House,” Warren said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
The Democratic comity came as Trump’s campaign continued to be battered by denunciations from his fellow Republicans over remarks Trump made impugning a federal judge’s impartiality because of his Mexican heritage. On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his distress at Trump’s comments, saying Trump “has a ways to go to give us a campaign we can all be proud of.”
A quick closing of the ranks by Clinton and Sanders supporters would be welcomed by a Democratic leadership that was caught largely by surprise by the outpouring of support for Sanders, a 74-year-old self-described socialist who relishes being a champion of the underpaid, overworked American worker.
In a year when Clinton was expected to walk away easily with the nomination, Sanders won primary contests in more than 20 states, collecting 12 million votes and the rock-star-like adulation of millions, many of them young.
Clinton, however, finished with a majority of the votes and of the delegates — and a strong victory in California that helped deflate any remaining hopes that Sanders could somehow take the prize from her at the party’s convention in Philadelphia next month.
Sanders spent the day meeting with Democratic leaders, from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to his colleagues on Capitol Hill. He focused steadfastly on Trump.
“Donald Trump would clearly, to my mind and I think the majority of Americans, be a disaster as president of the United States,” he said.
Trump responded by Twitter saying “Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama — but nobody else does!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.