From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
UNITY, N.H. -- Hillary Clinton called on the 36 million Americans who supported her and Barack Obama to join together "to create an unstoppable force for change we can all believe in", echoing the slogan of her former rival's winning campaign as the two shared a stage for the first time in months.
After battling for the Democratic Party nomination for more than a year, debating each other nearly two dozen times and trading barbs over healthcare, trade and who was ready to lead the country in uncertain times, the two hit the trail together Friday in this small New Hampshire town, chosen both for the symbolism of its name and the fact that the candidates split the votes in the January primary -- winning 107 each.
Despite several recent polls showing Obama leading presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, many in the party believed a joint event like this one was needed to begin to heal the wounds of the 18 million people who supported the former first lady.
Bill and Hillary Clinton both contributed the maximum amount of $2,300 each to Obama's campaign, a Clinton aide said, a move that seemed aimed at highlighting the sense of a coming together. Last night, the Obama's contributed the maximum of $4,600 together to Clinton to help retire her debt.
Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen and New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch revved up the crowd of more than 4,000 gathered in the heat outside Unity Elementary School under a cloudy sky. Young children perched on shoulders as Obama and Clinton headed for the stage, many holding signs that read "Unite for Change" and a few holding some that read "Hillary for President."
Clinton introduced Obama, giving a 23-minute speech in which she acknowledged the long, tough primary and urged her disappointed supporters not to stay at home or vote for John McCain, who she said would bring more of the same, but to get behind the senator from Illinois.
"I was honored to be in this race with Barack and I am proud that we had a spirited dialogue," Clinton said as laughter rippled through the crowd. "That was the nicest way I can think of phrasing it. But it was spirited because we both care so much and so do our supporters – each and every one of you."
She called each vote cast for the two of them "a "prayer for our nation" and "truly a vote of confidence in the American Dream" as she repeatedly emphasized the theme of the day, one both candidates touted in the final days of the primaries.
"Sen. McCain and the Republicans may have hoped that we wouldn't join forces like this. They may have wished that we wouldn't stand united to fight this battle with everything we've got, but I've got news for them: we are one party we are one America and we are not going to rest until we take back our country and put it once again on the path to peace, prosperity and progress in the 21st century," she said to applause and chants of "Yes we Can."
Obama thanked Clinton and said she had broken barriers and served as a lesson to his daughters that women can do anything the boys can do "and do it better, and do it in heels" and he echoed the call for unity, while also hailing the influence and successes of her husband.
"I am proud to call her a friend and I know how much we'll need both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton as a party and as a country in the months and years to come," he said, adding that the American people needed their service, their vision and their wisdom. "It is fitting that we meet in a place called Unity, because the truth is, that's the only way we can solve the challenges facing this country."
He made several references to sexism -- both the sexism many believe the New York senator faced during the campaign - from voters as well as the news media -- and the sexism that confronts women in general in America each day.
"When Hillary Clinton gets up in the morning -- even in the face of the toughest odds and the most vicious attacks -- she is doing so with the same motivation that took her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago," he said. "The same passion that led her to work at the Children's Defense Fund and caused her to fight for health care as first lady; what has made her one of the finest senators that New York has ever seen, what has made her a historic candidate for the president -- an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult that fight may be."
Obama said he had admired Clinton as a leader and had learned from her as a candidate and when a woman in the crowd shouted "She rocks!" he repeated the phrase, saying that was the point he was trying to make.
Later in his speech Obama talked about the need to work for equal pay for women for equal work.
The emphasis on sexism came as some Clinton supporters and political observers argued that Obama needed to acknowledge that sexism had played a role in the race in order help to win over the women who had supported her.
Obama went on to lay out what he called choice in this election Iraq, healthcare, energy, education, economy, speaking for about 19 minutes.
Flying together, campaigning together
While the speeches lacked the usual energy seen at such events -- a sense the low volume of the speakers may have contributed to --, the atmosphere on the plane trip down appeared light and friendly and an aide described the journey to Unity on Obama's campaign bus as "festive."
The pair's day together began hours earlier when they greeted each other on the tarmac in Washington with a handshake, a few pats on the back and a kiss on the check. The former rivals were dressed similarly -- him in a light blue tie, her in a light blue pantsuit -- a coincidence that amused the reporters traveling with them but that aides said was accidental. They sat next to one another during the flight and joked as they ate sandwiches on the bus ride from Manchester to Unity, according to an aide.
Periodically throughout the speech an older woman near the back of the crowd chanted "Hill-a-ry V-P!", a sentiment shared by former Clinton staffer Sam Arora, who is now the communications director for the Vote Both effort that began about three months ago.
"You look at some of these polls, there is a 'Dream ticket' bump in a lot of these swing states. It's like a couple points, but it's the difference between a tight race points and a landslide," Arora said.
Arora, who said he believed the chances Clinton would be chosen as running mate were small, called the former rivals "the two most talented leaders in the Democratic Party" and argued adding Clinton to the ticket would give Obama a wide lead in a place like Ohio that would allow him to put a lot more money into expanding the electoral map and competing in a state like Montana.
Whether or not the two run on the same ticket, the Obama campaign has said it wants Clinton's help campaigning and Clinton has said she's ready to do all she can to get him elected.
Obama's Chief Strategist David Axelrod said she would be "a powerful advocate" out on the trail.
"She's got particular resonance around these economic issues and I think the economic issues are what's driving this election," Axelrod said on the flight from Washington.
After the event, Obama headed back to Washington. Clinton was headed to New York.