It wasn't a celebration, but it wasn't a wake, either.
When Sen. Hillary Clinton graciously closed out her presidential campaign Saturday before hundreds of her most loyal supporters and unequivocally endorsed rival Sen. Barack Obama, she provided welcome relief to party stalwarts worried about deep fractures come fall.
But perhaps more important, Clinton, in a speech salted with references to the women's movement and stay-strong encouragement, gave supporters like Deborah Kahn of McLean, Va., a reason to stay in the Democratic fold.
"She did a wonderful job in placing the emphasis on America—moving forward for America," said Kahn, standing in the sweltering heat after Clinton's speech in Washington. "You don't have to love [Obama] to vote for him because you love America more."
It was that kind of day for Clinton loyalists, a day marked by occasional tears and tumultuous applause for the first woman to get this close to a major party nomination. The raw, public emotions that marked the previous weekend's Democratic Party snub of Clinton's effort to seat all Michigan and Florida delegates--her campaign's final, desperate act--had given way to quiet resignation.
There were no demonstrators among the quiet lines of supporters waiting outside the National Building Museum hours before the speech. There were no Hillary posters, no banners; and only a handful wore campaign T-shirts. (One read: "Bill Clinton for First Laddie.")
"Today I'm feeling ambivalent," said Inez Charles, 54, who had driven down from Philadelphia with two friends. "I'm happy I supported her, and I'm also happy that Obama's going to need her votes."
But the overall resignation, along with the talk of moving to acceptance of Obama, wasn't universal. Boos mixed with loud cheers when Clinton repeatedly called on her supporters to support Obama, and Charles was among those who said they'll need a lot more convincing.
The speech also provided a setting for perhaps one last campaign gathering of the Clinton family's political brain trust—from Vernon Jordan to campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe, who worked the VIP line near the stage with the mantra "We gave it all we had." (Less than an hour later, McAuliffe was on television again touting Clinton for vice president.)
Many of her supporters said they'd like to see Clinton on the ticket, but they aren't holding their breath. "It would be great, fabulous—but we're not expecting it," said JoAnn Foltz, 32, of Arlington, Va., who attended the speech with her boyfriend, Chris Bjornson, 41. He wants Clinton to continue to fight for healthcare reform, and Foltz said she'd love to see her in the cabinet.
It would "break my heart," Clinton told the crowd, if the disappointment of her loss meant that supporters would fail to help put a Democrat in the White House. "When you fall," she told them, "you get right back up."
Marlene Connors, 60, of Washington said she plans to do just that, though she said she remains troubled by media she sees as sexist but petrified of seeming racist and by women who didn't get behind Clinton.
"My husband and I decided that we were going to be in mourning the month of June," she said. "In July, we'll chill, and in August, we'll get on the Obama bandwagon." And what about Clinton's future—the national ticket? A high-level appointment?
"I don't know," Connors said. "I just want her to be happy." Perhaps even Clinton herself doesn't yet know what holds the key to her happiness. But on Saturday, when she stood alone on the stage and spoke of how remarkable it is that it now can be considered unremarkable for a woman to compete for a party nomination and when she talked about the 18 million new cracks in the glass ceiling to the White House, she had reason to feel a sense of great accomplishment, Connors said, if not happiness.
"What she did," Connors said, "will last forever."