Hillary Clinton still hedging her bets

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : A day after Barack Obama clinched a historic Democratic presidential nomination, his vanquished rival Hillary Clinton appeared ready to back his White House bid but was still hedging her bets on calling it quits.

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Clinton will express support for Obama and Democratic Party unity in the race against Republican John McCain at an event Friday, her campaign stated Wednesday without saying if she would also formally end her campaign and endorse Obama.

“Senator Clinton will be hosting an event in Washington D.C. Friday to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,” the statement said hours after media reports that she was moving to suspend her campaign and endorse Obama.

The former first lady who has so far refused to concede defeat apparently decided to express support for Obama after Democratic members of Congress urged her Wednesday to quit and allow the party to unite around the first black candidate to lead the party into a White House race.

Her decision, first reported by ABC News on its website, came after a day of telephone conversations with supporters on Capitol Hill about what she should do now that Obama has claimed enough delegates to secure the nomination at the party convention in August.

Earlier Wednesday, a group of top Democratic leaders asked all of the party’ s uncommitted super delegates, party leaders who get automatic convention seats by virtue of the offices they have held, to make their preferences known by Friday.

While the group of leaders did not formally endorse Obama or urge Clinton to exit the race, they said in a joint statement: “Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election.”

These leaders, including chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, stressed that the party needed to “stand united and begin our march toward reversing the eight years of failed Bush/McCain policies that have weakened our country”.

As many party leaders began to coalesce behind Obama, some of Clinton’s supporters urged him to take Clinton as his running mate. Media has speculated that her interest in getting the number two spot was one reason for her not conceding defeat.

Terry McAuliffe, the Clinton campaign chairman, however, insisted Wednesday on CNN that there had been “absolutely zero discussions” about whether she would accept a vice presidential nomination.

“We’re going to be having a conversation in coming weeks,” Obama himself told reporters when asked about Clinton and said he was confident the party would be unified to win the general election.

Meanwhile, turning his focus to the five-month long battle ahead with McCain, Obama announced a three-member team, including Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president John Kennedy, to head his search for a running mate.

Also included in the search team are former deputy attorney general Eric Holder and Jim Johnson, former chief executive of the mortgage lender Fannie Mae, who performed the same task for John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

But as Obama returned to Capitol Hill to a hero’s welcome from Democrats who swarmed to shake his hand and hug him, a bit of potentially embarrassing news came his way.

Real estate developer Antoin “Tony” Rezko, an old friend and fund-raiser, was found guilty of fraud for using his political clout to demand kickbacks and win government contracts.

He was also convicted of bribery and money-laundering in the case, which has dogged Obama during his quest to secure the party’s presidential nomination even though he is not accused of any wrong-doing.

The Illinois senator subsequently donated all the money raised for his White House bid by Rezko to charity, but prosecutors have said some of the kickbacks ended up in his campaign coffers.

Tuesday’s verdict provided fodder to McCain, with the Republican Party’s national committee sending out a statement saying: “Obama has maintained a friendship with a now convicted felon”.

Obama has already come under fire for a 2005 land deal with Rezko when it was widely known that the developer was under federal scrutiny, something the senator later called a “boneheaded” move.