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(photo credit: AP)
Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned together to heal divisions after their bitter, history-making fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, calling for party unity to beat Republican John McCain in the race for the White House.
Clinton, once considered the inevitable nominee before she was bested by Obama earlier this month, noted Friday that they had stood "toe to toe" against each other in a primary season battle that began almost two years ago. She declared the time has come to "stand shoulder to shoulder" against the Republicans to regain a presidency that their party has not held since her husband, Bill Clinton, left office at the start of 2001.
The venue of Unity, New Hampshire, was carefully chosen for the pair's first joint campaign appearance, both for the symbolism of its name and its role in the primary race. Unity awarded exactly 107 votes to each candidate in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary in January, though Clinton actually took the state.
The appearance Friday capped a turbulent Democratic primary season and tense post-race transition as the two went from foes to friends, at least publicly, and was the most visible event in a series of gestures the two senators have made over the past week to mend hurt feelings - both between themselves and their supporters.
Both were mindful of the need for the entire party to swing behind Obama as he faces McCain, a veteran senator they both say offers nothing more than a continuation of George W. Bush's unpopular presidency.
"To anyone who voted for me and is now considering not voting or voting for Senator McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider," she told a crowd of about 6,000 people.
Obama and McCain are running even nationally at 44 percent among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update.
Some Obama backers have claimed that Clinton weakened Obama's candidacy by remaining in the primary race long after she had any hope of winning. Obama is depending on the former first lady to give her voters and donors a clear signal that she does not consider it a betrayal for them to shift their loyalty his way.
Clinton won convincingly among several voter groups during the primaries, including working class voters and older women - groups that McCain has actively courted since she left the race.
Bill Clinton may also try to guard his legacy by campaigning full-bore for Obama. But the former president was not at the Unity gathering, and friends say it could be awhile before he is ready to fully embrace Obama's candidacy.
Clinton, for her part, needs the Illinois senator's help in paying down $10 million of her campaign debt, plus an assurance that she will be treated respectfully as a top surrogate on the campaign trail and at the Democratic Party convention later this summer.
In an important symbolic gesture, both Clintons contributed the maximum $2,300 apiece to Obama's campaign Friday. The announcement followed Obama's disclosure that he and his wife Michelle would give the same amount toward Clinton's debt retirement.
Obama praised both Clintons as allies and pillars of the Democratic Party.
"We need them. We need them badly," Obama said.
"For 16 months, Senator Clinton and I have shared the stage as rivals for the nomination, but today I could not be happier and more honored and more moved that we're sharing this stage as allies to bring about the fundamental changes that this country so desperately needs," he said. "Hillary and I may have started with separate goals in this campaign, but we made history together."
"I've admired her as a leader, I've learned from her as a candidate. She rocks. She rocks. That's the point I'm trying to make," Obama said in response to cheers from the crowd.
Meanwhile, McCain chastised Obama for claiming that his Republican rival would appoint a conservative Supreme Court that would be detrimental to women's rights.
The Hill, a political newspaper in Washington, D.C., reported Thursday that Obama made the comment last week during a private meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"I respect Senator Obama and I admire his success, and I will conduct a respectful campaign," McCain said Friday after touring a General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio. "That kind of a statement or allegation is not worthy of Senator Obama or worthy of the debate that the American people want and deserve."
McCain also repeated his call for face-to-face town-hall meetings with Obama.