Obama hopes to heal wounds as Clinton turns cheerleader

Barack Obama faces a tough challenge in uniting Democrats after a bruising, five-month battle for the party's presidential nomination, dpa reported.

Time will tell whether the enthusiastic endorsement of former rival Hillary Clinton will be enough to convince her passionate supporters.

There was a mix of boos and cheers every time Clinton mentioned Obama's name during a final rally Saturday in Washington, where she suspended her campaign, thanked those who voted for her and pledged to "join forces" with Obama in returning a Democrat to the White House.

"We all know this has been a tough fight," she said. "The Democratic Party is a family, and it's now time to restore the ties that bind us together and to come together around the ideals we share, the values we cherish and the country we love."

Clinton spoke of Obama's inspirational message, his "optimism," and how he reached "milestones" by becoming the first African- American ever to lead a major US political party into the November 4 general election.

Her supporters in the room, many of whom had been a part of the campaign since the state-by-state primaries began in January, were not nearly as enthusiastic.

"I'm not too thrilled about Obama," said Meigan Thompson, 26, who quit her job in Washington to join the Clinton campaign in December.

She said she was unlikely to do the same for Obama.

Though there were precious few differences between the two Democrats on issues, Clinton voters passionately believed their candidate had a better shot at capturing the White House, and they still question whether a first-term US senator has enough experience to win in November and lead the country.

Obama was a state legislator until being elected to the Senate in 2004. His opponent in the general election, Republican John McCain, is a 71-year-old Vietnam War hero who was first elected to the Senate in 1986.

Considered a centre-right moderate with a reputation for bucking his own party, McCain is hoping to pull some disaffected Clinton voters into the Republican column.

Obama struggled throughout the primaries with some key Democratic constituencies, including older and working class voters, and some demographic groups must still be convinced that he represents the same values they recognized in Clinton.

One of those groups is female voters, who saw Clinton as their best hope of having a woman elected president. While European and Asian nations have grown accustomed to female leaders, she is the first woman to even mount a serious presidential campaign in the United States.

"It was important that she came this far, but it's interesting that we would still elect a black man over a woman," said 64-year-old Sandy Joseph, who kept silent at any mention of Obama's name during Clinton's speech.

Some have argued that the need to heal those wounds within the party leaves Obama with little option but to pick Clinton as his vice presidential running mate, creating what for months has been dubbed the "dream ticket."

Long-time Clinton advisor Lanny Davis has started a petition to that effect, but her campaign has rejected the notion, and Clinton made no mention of the number two spot in her speech Saturday.

Obama is not the only one with trouble on the unity front. McCain's maverick reputation and deviations from his own party line on some key issues - including immigration reform and climate change - has left him with a similar problem in his own Republican Party.

"I don't think it will be much of a contest between McCain and Obama," said Chuck Davenport, a physician from Florida who supported Republican candidate Ron Paul and now prefers Obama. "I don't think McCain can win."

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