Is Clinton-Obama Unity Just a Town in N.H.?

Former rivals make a show of coming together, but is it more than that?


June 25, 2008— -- After a bitter primary battle, Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., will campaign together Friday in Unity, N.H. But how much unity is there, really?

In front of the cameras today, both put on a tremendous display of mutual admiration.

"I want her campaigning as much as she can," Obama said of Clinton at a press availability this evening in Chicago. "She was a terrific campaigner. She, I think, inspired millions of people."

Obama predicted the two of them "will have a terrific time together in New Hampshire."

"I am 100 percent committed to doing everything I can to make sure that Sen. Obama is sworn in as the next president of the United States next January," Clinton said this morning after a private 35-minute meeting with House Democrats, after which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi relayed that she'd told her fellow Democrats that "Sen. Clinton has emerged from this election the most respected political figure in America, for now and for a long time."

"She got half a dozen standing ovations, and you know we're not easily moved by politicians," Clinton supporter Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., told ABC News.

But behind all the smiles, tension remains.

One dispute centers around the extent to which Obama will help Clinton retire her more than $10 million in campaign debt. On Tuesday, Obama asked his top fundraisers to open their wallets for her.

"What I said was, to my large donors, who are in a position to write large checks, to help Sen. Clinton retire her debt, or at least a portion of it," Obama said today. "And I think there are going to be those who are willing to do so."

Former Clinton campaign adviser Lisa Caputo praised Obama for the move. "I think it was a necessary step, and I think it has sent a clear message to Clinton supporters that people -- both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama -- are on the same page," she said.

But to the assured consternation of other former Clinton campaign officials, Obama said he would not solicit help for Clinton from his grassroots army of 1.5 million donors, many of whom make small contributions and contribute through the Internet.

"Small donors who are writing $5 or $10 or $15, $25 checks -- first of all, their budgets are tighter," Obama said. "I'm not going to be individually contacting $15 donors, because, frankly, it probably wouldn't be that effective in terms of making a big dent in Sen. Clinton's debt."

Another challenge in uniting the two campaigns is getting Bill Clinton, whose public comments about Obama have been tepid, on board. The former president was irked during the primaries by insinuations he had used racially charged language about Obama, and by Obama's occasional belittling of his accomplishments.

"I don't think Bill Clinton had that closeness, that up-front closeness, to Barack Obama that Hillary had, and that makes it a little more difficult," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Clinton supporter, told ABC News.

Rendell said that, to Bill Clinton, "Barack Obama was sort of a stand-offish figure," while, to his wife, he "was someone she worked with, someone she likes, someone she respects and somebody she stood toe-to-toe with. She knows how good Barack Obama was, just like he knows how good she was."

Rangel said Bill Clinton might have gone too far sometimes, but that should be understandable.

"I've seen some awkwardness and some flare-ups that I know should not have occurred," Rangel said, adding that these flare-ups would not have occurred if the Obama campaign hadn't been "messing with the man's wife."

Obama today downplayed any tension with the former president, saying Bill Clinton's terse words of support for him, so far, would not affect party unity, "because I'm going to be appearing with Sen. Clinton, the former president's wife, who was involved in an epic, historic primary with me."

He added that "if the question is, do I want Bill Clinton campaigning for us, for the ticket, leading into November, the answer is absolutely yes. I want him involved. He is a brilliant politician. He was an outstanding president. And so, I want his help, not only in campaigning, but also in governing. And I'm confident that I'll get that help."

Sen. Clinton said of her husband, "he has said he will do whatever he can and whatever he's asked to do."

Beyond Clinton's husband, Obama will want her to urge her supporters -- many of whom are still angry -- to get behind the presumptive Democratic nominee.

According to Rendell, Clinton is "going to deliver a very stern message, in some ways, to her supporters: 'Get over it. Let's go.' As she said, we can't waste any time looking back."

The November election is only 4 1/2 months away. Obama hopes the joint appearance Friday will allow Democrats to stop fighting with each other and to unite against the likely Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Natalie Gewargis, Jennifer Duck, Andy Fies and Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.

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