CHICAGO (AP) — They may not be falling in love, but they're falling in line.
Prominent supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton are embracing Barack Obama, literally and figuratively, even though some remain bitter about her loss in a presidential primary process that they feel treated her unfairly.
In several key states this week, Obama is being joined on stages by top Democrats who, a few weeks ago, were working to deny him the nomination.
“I know I'm late, but I am on the train,” North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said Monday in introducing Obama in Raleigh. “I'd rather be a bum on the boxcar of the Obama train than at the front of the bus with John McCain,” he said of Obama's Republican opponent.
A few in the crowd of 900 briefly booed Easley, whose endorsement of Clinton failed to stop Obama from an easy win in the May 6 primary, which all but doomed the former first lady’s hopes.
Other former Clinton backers also are jumping on the Obama express, now that it has left the station. Introducing him at a St. Louis fundraiser this week was state Rep. Rachel Storch, who was Clinton's Missouri state director.
Later this week, two Democratic governors who helped deliver crucial Clinton wins in their states will appear with Obama. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland was scheduled to greet him in
Columbus on Friday, June 13, and later that day the senator planned to join Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in Philadelphia.
The governors lent their considerable prestige and organizations to Clinton, helping her achieve primary victories so large that Democratic operatives now worry about Obama's chances in the two battleground states. Ohio was crucial to President Bush's narrow 2004 win over John Kerry. And Pennsylvania is seen as almost a must-win state for Obama because Democrats have carried it in the last four presidential contests, although sometimes narrowly.
Most of the late-arriving Obama endorsers are swallowing their pride and beaming, publicly at least, at the first-term Illinois senator who overcame the Clinton political machine.
Some, however, can barely speak the words without betraying their disappointment that Clinton will not become the party's first female nominee. Obama has a lot of work to do, they say.
“There is definitely a period of mourning that ardent Hillary Clinton supporters are going through,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston., told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “I think there is a fairly large group of women that are going to need to be won over. And that's going to take some time.”
Wasserman Schultz said she believes most Democratic women eventually will back Obama because, unlike McCain, he supports abortion rights, a prompt end to the Iraq war and other issues important to them.
The conference call was organized by EMILY's List, a Washington group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights. Its president, Ellen R. Malcolm, acknowledged keen disappointment at Clinton's loss.
“Those of us who supported Hillary go through a process of dealing with our many emotions of disappointment and sadness and some anger,” she said. “But we will focus on the goal, which is to change the direction of this country” by electing Obama.
She sharply criticized the news media, saying its coverage of Clinton was often sexist. Groups and individuals who urged her to drop out before the last primary was held were “disrespectful to Senator Clinton,” she said.
However, Malcolm said, “the election is not today. We've got five months” for wounds to heal and for Obama to appeal to Clinton's supporters.
Few states are more important to him than Pennsylvania, where he lost badly to Clinton among working-class white Democrats. If McCain could manage a win there with its 21 electoral votes, it would force Obama to compensate by winning swing states or Republican-leaning states elsewhere.
At last week's Democratic State Committee in Camp Hill, Pa., some party officials switching their allegiance to Obama barely bothered to hide their reluctance and disappointment.
“At the end of the day, I'm a Democrat,” said Gail McDermott of Mechanicsburg, a Clinton delegate to the national nominating convention in August. “The most important thing is that we end George Bush's policies and the Iraq war,” she said.
Angie Gialloreto, a Clinton delegate from Pittsburgh, said she hopes Obama will pick Clinton as his running mate. But even if he does not, she said, “the people spoke” and Obama will be the nominee. “As Democrats we believe in fair fights and party unity.”
Even Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, mixes his endorsement of Obama with wistfulness for Clinton.
“He believes Hillary would have been a stronger candidate,” Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said in an interview Wednesday. "But he will work tirelessly to see Obama get elected."
Associated Press Writer Peter Jackson in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.