Clinton set to end campaign, endorse Obama today

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her presidential campaign nearly 17 months ago leading in national polls and supported by much of the Democratic establishment. She declared in a campaign video, "I'm in to win."

That journey formally ends today as she prepares to suspend her campaign, thank her supporters and endorse her rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, in the last event of her active candidacy at the National Building Museum in Washington.

Still ahead: Retiring an estimated $30 million campaign debt and plotting her political future. She has promised to do everything possible to help the Democratic nominee win the White House, but she has acknowledged in a written statement that it is up to Obama whether that includes joining the ticket as vice president.

She distanced herself from a petition drive and letter-writing campaign by supporters demanding that he choose her as his running mate, though on Tuesday she had spurred feverish speculation by telling New York lawmakers she was "open" to the prospect.

Late Thursday, Clinton and Obama held what was apparently their first extended private conversation since the campaign began, though they have repeatedly encountered one another on debate stages and the Senate floor. Taking cloak-and-dagger steps to avoid coverage by reporters, they met at the home of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the posh Spring Valley neighborhood of Washington.

Their aides sent to the library, the two spoke in the living room without anyone else present for about an hour.

"This is a deeply personal time, too," Feinstein told reporters on Capitol Hill Friday, with both competitors "sorting out" their feelings. "So there are a lot of decompression, nerve-endings, all these things that need to kind of come together."

In today's speech, Clinton is poised to do what she didn't in remarks at a rally in New York Tuesday after the final two primaries, lavishing praise on the victor and vowing to back him fully.

Since he swept the opening Iowa caucuses in January, they have battled to a near draw through more than 50 contests. It ended Tuesday with the South Dakota and Montana contests, which sent him over the 2,118 mark in delegates. That's the number needed to be nominated at the party's national convention in Denver in August.

He will be the first African-American nominated by a major party for the presidency. She would have been the first woman.

Obama said he was taking the weekend off in Chicago. Before meeting with Clinton late Thursday, after a campaign rally in northern Virginia that drew 10,000, he told reporters, "There will be a time and place when she and I will appear together."

In a fundraising appeal, campaign manager Maggie Williams said Clinton would use today's event "to thank all of her supporters, to express her support for Senator Obama, and to talk about the issues that have been at the core of her public service, the issues she will continue fighting for."

Clinton hosted a thank-you reception Friday for campaign staff workers, who trouped past reporters and photographers to her home in Northwest Washington.

It was in the sunroom of that house that she taped the video launching her campaign. "Let the conversation begin," she said then. "I have a feeling it's going to be very interesting."