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‘We Are on the Same Team,’ Clinton Tells Party, Supporters

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) made the most of her political consolation prize at Denver’s Pepsi Center on Tuesday night, urging the party to unify behind presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and telling her millions of loyal supporters to support his candidacy.

“Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose,” Clinton said. “We are on the same team and none of us can sit on the sidelines.”

Speaking before a capacity audience that alternated between “Hillary” and “Unity” placards, Clinton touched on the themes of her failed presidential campaign before turning to Obama.

“I ran for president to renew the promise for America, to rebuild the middle class and sustain the American dream, to provide the opportunity to work hard and have that work rewarded, to save for college, a home and retirement,” Clinton told the crowd, which periodically chanted the her name. “Most of all, I ran to stand up for all those who have been invisible to their government for eight long years.”

“Those are the reasons I ran for president,” she said. “Those are the reasons I support Barack Obama and those are the reasons you should, too.”

In her much-anticipated speech, Clinton also thanked her supporters – her “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” – who waged a bloody battle with Obama over the better part of a year, creating a rift Democratic Party leaders worry may linger through November.

“You never gave in, you never gave up and we made history together,” she said.

The one-time Democratic frontrunner also paid tribute to recently deceased Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) – “my dear friend” and an early Clinton backer whose son sat with the Clinton family on Tuesday night along with Clinton primary supporters Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.).

Clinton then quickly shifted in her historic address to attacking presumptive GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). She said he “served our country with honor and courage” but added that his possible presidency equates with the historically unpopular Bush administration.

“John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound,” she said. “John McCain doesn’t think that 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. … And in 2008, he still thinks it’s OK when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work.”

“With an agenda like that, it makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days, they’re awfully hard to tell apart,” Clinton said.

Whether Clinton’s legions of female and blue-collar supporters step in line behind Obama or migrate to McCain remains to be seen. Michigan delegate Aldo Vagnozzi, a state legislator, predicted that Democrats in organized labor-heavy Michigan would eventually choose to vote for the Illinois lawmaker, who could reward his former political opponent with a plum spot in his administration.

“I think the Michigan delegates are pretty well committed to Obama,” Vagnozzi said. “I think she’ll play a key role in the Obama administration — provided she wants to give up her Senate seat.”

And Indiana delegate Mary Etta Rulery, a former Capitol Hill aide who is challenging Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) this November, applauded her fellow Democrats before Clinton’s speech for pushing aside months of heated racial rhetoric that surfaced almost daily in the Obama-Clinton showdown.

“This is so motivating to see most of the people come together with unity no matter what their racial status, economic status,” Rulery said. “It’s going to take all of us to get this thing done.”

Anne Hauser, Laura Marrast and Nathan Gonzales contributed to this report.