WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton ended her presidential campaign Saturday, and with it nearly two decades of her family's dominance of the Democratic Party.
"Well, this isn't exactly the party I'd planned, but I sure like the company," Clinton, 60, told cheering supporters at the National Building Museum in Washington as she suspended her campaign and endorsed Barack Obama.
"The way to continue our fight now . . . is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States."
Her reluctant departure from the campaign — she waited four days after Obama clinched the nomination — marked more than just the end of her long quest for the presidency and what would have been a unique husband-wife dynasty in the White House. It signaled the end of the Clintons' pre-eminence in the Democratic Party, at least temporarily.
For the better part of two decades, Bill and Hillary Clinton were the leading lights of the party, often pushing against the party's liberal left wing, their bare-knuckle politics adding the words "war room" and "vast right wing conspiracy" to the campaign dictionary, their personal lives a magnet for investigation, imagination and speculation.
"If it's not the end of the Clinton era, it is on hiatus," said Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State University in California.
She could come back, of course.
Ronald Reagan lost a close Republican nomination battle to Gerald Ford in 1976, and then won it and the White House four years later. John McCain lost the Republican nomination in 2000 and won it this year.
With 18 million votes in this year's Democratic primaries, Clinton built a broad coalition with support from women, Hispanics and working class whites. If Obama falls short in November, she'd be well positioned to run in 2012. If he wins this year and a second term in 2012, she could run in 2016, when she'd be 68 years old.
For now, however, her time at the top is over.
That's true in policy — where the Clintons started pushing against the party's more liberal left wing on issues in the early 1990s, when Bill Clinton pushed for welfare reform and free trade, for example.
She ran this year, first as a pro-military hawk, criticizing Obama's vow to meet with foreign dictators and his proposal to raise Social Security taxes on those who make more than $100,000 a year.
The Clinton brand of politics — an often ad hoc mix of triangulation and confrontation that Obama criticized as too combative and out-of-date for a new era — lost its luster in the party.
If Clinton was defiant last Tuesday evening when she refused to concede, she was conciliatory to Obama Saturday.
"Today as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary campaign he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him and I ask of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me," she said.
The New York senator, who came closer than any woman in history ever has to winning a major party presidential nomination, was joined by her mother, her husband and their daughter, Chelsea.
She noted the unique nature of her campaign and how it touched women — older women who were born before women had the right to vote and younger women still waiting to see one of their own shatter the most prominent glass ceiling.
"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it has about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before," she said.
"Children today will grow up taking for granted that an African-American or a woman can, yes, become the president of the United States," she said.
Supporters started lining up at dawn under a scorching sun, many of them women of her generation who flocked to her campaign and were her steadiest and most loyal supporters.
David Randels, a Clinton supporter from Lansing, Mich., called the event "bittersweet".
"We're losing a candidate who I think was the right candidate," Randels said. "It's sad. But it's time for us to focus on the failures of the last eight years. We need to make sure we don't repeat them."
One Clinton supporter, Shannon De Witt, a flight attendant from Miami, said he'd like to see an Obama-Clinton ticket: "They would do much for this country. They agree on 95 percent of the issues. They have strengths that complement each other."
Agreed Denise Fight, 51, of Seal Beach, Calif.: "All politics get testy and aggressive. I want to see the party come together, see them work together to do some good."
There also were some Obama supporters, who said they came to show party unity.
John Ogas, a retired federal agent from Annapolis, was one of the few Obama supporters in the crowd (he came with his wife, a Clinton supporter).
"I'm glad she's finally willing to concede and unite the party," Ogas said. "I'll give her a strong hand. It's overdue, but I'm just glad she's doing it."
To read Sen. Clinton's speech, go to: