WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton suspended her pioneering campaign for the presidency on Saturday and summoned supporters to use 'our energy, our passion, our strength' to put Barack Obama in the White House.
'I endorse him and throw my full support behind him,' said the former first lady, delivering the strong affirmation that her one-time rival and other Democratic leaders hoped to hear after a bruising campaign.
Amid tears from her supporters, Clinton issued a call for unity that emphasized the cultural and political milestones that she and Obama, the first black to secure a presidential nomination, represent.
'Children today will grow up taking for granted that an African-American or a woman can, yes, become the president of the United States,' she said.
For Clinton and her backers, it was a poignant moment, the end of an extraordinary run that began with an air of inevitability and certain victory. About 18 million people voted for her; it was the closest a woman has come to capturing a nomination.
'Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it has about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before,' she said in a speech before cheering supporters packed into the ornate National Building Museum, not far from the White House she longed to occupy, as president this time.
Indeed, her speech repeatedly returned to the new threshold her candidacy had set for women. In primary after primary, her support among women was a solid bloc of her coalition. She noted that she had received the support of women born before women could even vote.
But her main goal was to heal the rift in the party - one that cleaved Democrats in part by class, by gender and by race.
'The way to continue our fight now to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next president of the United States,' she said.
'Today as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him and I ask of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me,' the New York senator said in her 28-minute address. Loud boos competed with applause.
With that and 13 other mentions of his name, Clinton placed herself solidly behind her Senate colleague from Illinois, who awaits Arizona Sen. John McCain in the general election. 'We may have started on separate journeys, but today, our paths have merged,' Clinton said.
Obama, in a statement from Chicago where he was spending the weekend, declared himself 'thrilled and honored' to have Clinton's support.
'I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run,' he said. 'She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams. And she inspired millions with her strength, courage and unyielding commitment to the cause of working Americans.'