UNITY, N.H. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton stood side by side in this tiny New England outpost to provide the image many Democrats needed to see after their long, bruising primary battle.
And the former rivals both understand they need each other now. Friday's unity event was the first public step in meeting all those needs.
Obama publicly implored the New York senator and her husband, former President Clinton, for their help.
"We need them. We need them badly," Obama said. "Not just my campaign, but the American people need their service and their vision and their wisdom in the months and years to come because that's how we're going to bring about unity in the Democratic
Party. And that's how we're going to bring about unity in America."
And he let her supporters know he appreciates her historic bid to become the first female president.
"I know that ... because of the campaign that Hillary Clinton waged, my daughters and all of your daughters will forever know that there is no barrier to who they are and what they can be in the United States of America," Obama said.
Obama and his supporters also got what they needed to see: Clinton endorsing the Illinois senator without equivocation and imploring her loyalists to join his cause.
"To anyone who voted for me and is now considering not voting or voting for Sen. (John) McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider," said Clinton. "To accomplish the goals that we all care about and stand for is to take our passion, our energy, and our strength, and do everything we can to elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States."
After worrying for months that the Clintons would be too narcissistic and power hungry to accept defeat with grace, Obama's backers had to acknowledge that she more than came through with her end of the bargain.
The former first lady needs to be an energetic team player to protect her own legacy. She cannot be seen as someone who stood in the way of a Democratic victory in November or of electing the first black president. Many Obama backers already blame Clinton for weakening Obama's candidacy by remaining in the primary race long after she had any hope of winning.
Bill Clinton must also guard his legacy by campaigning full-bore for Obama. But the former president was conspicuously absent from the Unity gathering, and friends say it could be awhile before he is ready to fully embrace Obama's candidacy.
The former first lady also needs Obama's help paying back her multimillion-dollar campaign debt, and he has promised to lend a hand.
In an important symbolic gesture, both Clintons contributed the maximum $2,300 apiece to Obama's campaign Friday. The announcement followed Obama's disclosure that he and his wife Michelle would give the same amount toward Clinton's debt retirement.
But there are still some touchy questions to resolve. Obama, famously averse to drama, still needs to determine how best to use the Democratic Party's visible and complicated former first couple in the campaign.
Aides to the two former rivals said they are further along in mending fences than some of their supporters, especially Clinton's. An Associated Press-Yahoo News poll published Thursday showed Obama has over slightly more than half of the New York senator's former supporters, but about a quarter of her backers say they will support Republican McCain over Obama. Many of Clinton's voters also expressed concerns about Obama's lack of experience.
At a fundraiser where Clinton introduced her top donors to Obama Thursday night, Obama sidestepped questions about whether he would choose her as his running mate and whether he would countenance her name being place in nomination at the Democratic convention in August. Both questions portend controversy down the road.
Still, Friday was a day for Democrats to pledge a united front in the campaign against McCain. And it was a chance to remember the most historic presidential primary campaign in memory.
Since Clinton suspended her candidacy June 7, the early weeks of the general election contest between Obama and McCain have seemed conventional and small. The sniping between the two men over trade, terrorism, energy and campaign finance has not matched the sweep and drama of the contest between the first black presidential candidate with a real chance and the strongest female presidential contender.
Against the memory of the five-month primary contest, the former rivals' joint appearance felt unusually poignant. The dynamic between the two Democrats had changed since the last time they shared a stage.
They came dressed for unity, her pantsuit and his tie both shades of light blue. And after months of cool, steely standoff, they smiled, whispered jokes and awkwardly embraced.
"She rocks. She rocks," Obama said, as Clinton smiled quietly from the side of the stage. At the end, she quickly exited the stage and left Obama to soak in the glory alone.