By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press
Barack Obama turned in earnest to the general election and the hunt for a running mate Wednesday, embraced by Democratic leaders who signaled forcefully and sometimes impatiently to Hillary Rodham Clinton that her marathon duel with Obama was over. Clinton kept her silence in public, while supporters made a case for her as Obama's No. 2.
Obama himself moved to link himself more closely with a young Democratic hero of a half-century ago, picking President Kennedy's daughter Caroline to help him choose a vice president.
While Clinton still wasn't conceding, even after Tuesday's primaries and a flood of "superdelegate" endorsements of Obama sealed the nomination, there were signs aplenty that she was closing shop. She began bidding campaign staff members farewell, and a number were told not to come to work after Friday. Last paychecks were expected to go out June 15.
The primary rivals ran into each other backstage at a hall where both spoke to Jewish leaders, but Obama said there was no mention of how or when she would formally end her long campaign to become the nation's first female president.
Obama showed no impatience, merely smiling and accepting congratulations from colleagues in both parties as he returned to the Capitol for a Senate vote. But other Democrats urged her to get out of the way.
"I don't see why we don't get on with it and endorse" Obama, said Rep. Charles Rangel, a congressman from Clinton's home state of New York. He said it was only a matter of time before he and other Clinton supporters formally back Obama.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Obama supporter, said Clinton's non-concession "creates a pretty delicate situation here, an awkward situation."
"I don't want to push her. Nobody is going to push her," Durbin said on MSNBC. "But the sooner she does, I think the more likely we're going to be organized and ready to win in November."
Obama began focusing on who will join his ticket in the fall. His campaign said the vetting of potential running mates was to be managed by a three-person team of Caroline Kennedy, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and longtime Washington insider Jim Johnson.
Clinton has told lawmakers privately that she would be interested in the vice presidential nomination. Obama was noncommittal after his chat with her behind the scenes at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
"We're going to be having a conversation in coming weeks, and I'm very confident how unified the Democratic Party's going to be to win in November," he told reporters after a vote in the Senate where he received congratulations from all sides.
Meanwhile, the dam holding back endorsements broke from coast to coast on the day after the primary elections concluded.
Seven senators who had stayed out of the matter said they were giving Obama their commitment and would work toward uniting Democrats for the election, now exactly five months away.
In Nashville, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen was joined by two other superdelegates to say they hoped to bring the party behind Obama even though Clinton won their state. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who had been a Clinton supporter, announced he was backing Obama.
It hardly mattered in terms of delegate math — after months of struggle, Obama had more than enough to prevail at the party convention in Denver in August. But Obama's new backers were also sending a message to Clinton that her race was over.
Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, was lobbying members of the Congressional Black Caucus to urge Obama to place Clinton on the ticket. He said he was doing so with her blessing.
Rangel, a founding member of the caucus, expressed doubts that Johnson's approach would work. "I don't really think that the way to get Obama to (choose) Clinton would be to put pressure on him. I think it would have the opposite effect," Rangel said.
The Obama camp's disclosure about the three-person veep vetting team was an effort to change the subject from the long, divisive primary campaign toward the general election.
Kennedy's name came as a surprise, although she endorsed Obama at a critical time last winter, saying he could be an inspirational leader like her father. She also campaigned for Obama.
Holder is a former federal prosecutor and District of Columbia Superior Court judge who held the No. 2 job at the Justice Department under President Clinton.
Johnson is widely known among Democrats for having helped previous candidates, including John Kerry four years ago, sift through vice presidential possibilities. He is a former chief executive officer for the mortgage lender Fannie Mae.
Clinton visited her campaign headquarters in suburban Arlington, Va., where she thanked staff members for their work. Aides said she was also phoning superdelegates and supporters, and planned to host an 89th birthday celebration at her Washington home for her mother, Dorothy Rodham.
Several high-dollar fundraisers who had spoken to the former first lady described her as upbeat and realistic about what she faced.
"She's very resolved, but open minded about whatever's coming. She's going forward with an optimistic eye," said Susie Tompkins Buell, a San Francisco-based fundraiser who flew from New York to Washington early Wednesday morning.
Some lawmakers showed deference to Clinton, an indication of the political and fundraising power that she and her husband still wield.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, an uncommitted superdelegate, said he will be supporting Obama but declined to make a formal endorsement. "I expect Mrs. Clinton to say some things over the next couple of days and I think that's appropriate for her to do. And I expect her to say that, at which time I may make a more formal" announcement, Hoyer said.
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett, Laurie Kellman, Beth Fouhy and Jesse Holland contributed to this report.
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