Obama turns focus to McCain

Democrat Barack Obama turned his focus to the five-month general-election fight for the White House against Republican John McCain on Wednesday and announced a three-member team to head his search for a running mate, Reuters reported.

Obama's last remaining Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was planning to suspend her campaign and endorse the Illinois senator on Friday, U.S. media reported, after Democratic Party leaders urged her to drop out of the race.

Obama, the first black candidate to lead a major U.S. party into a White House race, began the task of unifying a fractured party the day after clinching the nomination.

McCain proposed that Obama join him for a series of joint summer town-hall meetings around the country. Obama's campaign manager called the idea "appealing" but proposed format changes and made no immediate commitment.

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John Kennedy, will vet prospective Obama running mates along with 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.

Near the top of their agenda will be questions about a possible teaming with Clinton, who has indicated interest in the job after her presidential bid fell short.

"We're going to be having a conversation in coming weeks," Obama told reporters when asked about the former first lady and said he was confident the party would be unified to win the general election.

Obama returned to Capitol Hill to a hero's welcome from Democrats who swarmed to shake his hand and hug him.

"Our focus now is on victory in November and on giving Barack Obama every ounce of our support," eight previously uncommitted Democratic senators said in a statement.

Democratic leaders urged remaining undecided delegates to the August convention to make up their minds by Friday.

But House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to give any timeline for Clinton's to concede. "She's been through a very long and rigorous campaign," she said. "She's done beautifully. She has to wind down in her own time."


Obama took aim at McCain for his staunch support of the Iraq war during a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, saying the Arizona senator "refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy that he would continue."

"He criticizes my willingness to use strong diplomacy, but offers only an alternate reality -- one where the war in Iraq has somehow put Iran on its heels," he said. "Senator McCain offers a false choice: stay the course in Iraq, or cede the region to Iran."

In the same speech, Obama tried to smooth relations with Clinton after their long and sometimes bitter nominating fight, calling her an "extraordinary candidate and extraordinary public servant."

Clinton, in a later speech to the same group, complimented Obama and said she knew he would be a friend to Israel, but offered no signs of when she would end her campaign.

Clinton's supporters turned up the pressure for the New York senator to be named as Obama's vice presidential candidate. Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, said he wrote to the Congressional Black Caucus urging members to push Obama to choose Clinton.

Obama's campaign said the search was just beginning.

"Senator Obama is pleased to have three talented and dedicated individuals managing this rigorous process," spokesman Bill Burton said. "He will work closely with them in the coming weeks but ultimately this will be his decision and his alone."

The victory by Obama, son of a black Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, marked a milestone in U.S. history. It came 45 years after the height of the civil rights movement and followed one of the closest and longest nomination fights in recent U.S. political history.

Obama clinched the win after a wave of uncommitted delegates announced their support on Tuesday, pushing his total well past the 2,118 needed to win. Clinton, who would have been the first woman presidential nominee in U.S. political history, won more than 1,900 delegates.

Obama's achievement drew praise from a Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the highest-ranking black in President George W. Bush's Cabinet.

"It's a country that has overcome many, many, now years, decades of, actually a couple of centuries, of trying to make good on its principles," Rice said.

"And I think that what we're seeing is, an extraordinary expression of the fact that 'we the people,' is beginning to mean all of us," Rice said, a reference to the opening line of the U.S. Constitution.

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