Hillary Rodham Clinton was set to formally end her historic bid for the White House on Saturday and urge her supporters to rally behind ex-rival Barack Obama, a show of support Democrats hope will help heal the party fractured by a bitter battle for the presidential nomination.
She spent much of Friday working on her concession speech. Aides described the process as painstaking and emotional but said there was no question Clinton would enthusiastically endorse Obama. Unqualified support from Clinton could help Obama win over her ardent working class and older female supporters.
The former first lady was once seen as unbeatable for the Democratic presidential nomination, but her hopes of becoming the first woman U.S. president faded as Obama chipped away at her early lead in an epic, grueling 50-state nominating contest to become the first black presidential nominee from a major U.S. party.
Clinton is to make the endorsement in a speech in Washington following a tight race in which Clinton resolutely refused to back down, even as it appeared Obama had reached the necessary delegates to face off against Republican John McCain.
"I have said throughout the campaign that I would strongly support Senator Obama if he were the Democratic Party's nominee and I intend to deliver on that promise," Clinton told supporters in an online message late this week.
She said her speech would focus on "how together we can rally the party" behind Obama as he prepares for the general election against McCain. "The stakes are too high and the task before us too important to do otherwise."
Clinton was expected to campaign for Obama and to help with fundraising, while seeking his assistance in retiring her $30 million campaign debt.
One of Clinton's strongest supporters, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, delivered what he called "my first Obama speech" before a gathering of state Democratic Party leaders on Friday night, challenging fellow Clinton supporters to set aside their grudges and work to elect Obama president in November.
"We have to go to work!" Rendell told about 200 people at a Democratic State Committee dinner in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Obama and Clinton met privately on Thursday evening, though neither campaign has given details on their discussion. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told reporters Friday that Clinton called her in the afternoon and asked if she and Obama could meet at her home.
They arrived and left separately, Feinstein said, and had no staff in the room with them as they talked. Feinstein showed them into her living room, then left them alone and went upstairs to do her own work.
"They called me when it was over," Feinstein said. "I came down and said, `Good night everybody, I hope you had a good meeting.' They were laughing, and that was it."
Clinton also held a party at her Washington home Friday night to thank and bid farewell to her campaign staff.
At home in Chicago for the weekend, Obama made a surprise appearance Friday at a downtown rally promoting Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics and then gave the staff at his campaign headquarters a private pep talk. A reporter outside the closed session heard him say, "If I had lost Iowa, it would have been over."
Obama's weekend plans included a bicycle ride with his children and hosting a sleepover birthday party at his home for his 7-year old daughter Sasha and her friends.
He returns to the campaign trail Monday to launch a two-week tour across the country in North Carolina focusing on economic issues as he tries to win over working-class voters in key states that he hopes to put in the Democratic column in the November election.
Obama is still under pressure from Clinton's supporters to offer her the vice presidential slot on his ticket. However, he has said he will not be rushed into a decision.
Clinton, a New York senator, disavowed efforts by supporters pushing for Obama to choose her, but she has told lawmakers privately that she would be interested in the vice presidential nomination.
Democrat Charles Schumer, the other senator from New York, told ABC television network that Clinton has said she would be Obama's running mate if he offers it, but "if he chooses someone else she will work just as hard for the party in November."
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who earlier dropped out of the Democratic White House race, has ruled out being Obama's running mate, according to interviews with leading Spanish newspapers El Mundo and El Pais published Friday. Edwards, who is visiting Madrid, endorsed Obama in May after months of courting by both Democratic hopefuls.
Obama has told reporters his search for a running mate will be secret. He has chosen a three-person team that includes Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, to vet potential vice president candidates.
If Obama made Clinton his running mate, it might help him tap into her core supporters, who have so far eluded him, including masses of working-class voters in swing states, Hispanics and older voters, especially women.
A CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll released Friday showed just over half of Democrats nationally wanted Obama to put Clinton on the ticket.
The same poll showed Obama leading McCain nationally by a slight margin. Obama had 47 percent to McCain's 43 percent, with 6 percent for independent Ralph Nader.
The poll was conducted June 4-5 and included telephone interviews with 921 registered voters. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Also included were interviews with 447 Democrats and 435 Republicans, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 points for each.
A major issue in Obama's general election battle against McCain, a veteran Arizona senator who sewed up the Republican nomination in March, is likely to be the Iraq war and McCain's relationship with the unpopular President George W. Bush. McCain backs the war; Obama wants to set a date to pull out U.S. troops.
McCain was airing commercials in battleground states in which he says: "I'm running for president to keep the country I love safe."
The Republican presidential candidate, who has been running advertisements in key states since late March, will start running the new ad Friday and Saturday.
"Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war," McCain says in the ad. "I was shot down over Vietnam and spent five years as a POW (prisoner of war). Some of the friends I served with never came home. I hate war. And I know how terrible its costs are."