BRISTOL, Virginia (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton distanced herself on Thursday from a push to convince former Democratic rival Barack Obama he should select her as his running mate and said the decision on a vice president was his alone to make.
As Obama enjoyed his first campaign swing as the likely Democratic presidential nominee, some prominent supporters of Clinton have launched an effort to pressure him to invite her to join his ticket as the No. 2.
Critics of Clinton have accused her trying to force her way on the ticket.
An aide to the New York senator issued a statement trying to dispel that impression.
“While Sen. Clinton has made clear throughout this process that she will do whatever she can to elect a Democrat to the White House, she is not seeking the vice presidency, and no one speaks for her but her,” said spokesman Phil Singer. “The choice here is Senator Obama’s and his alone.”
Backers of an Obama-Clinton ticket believe it would be the best way to unify the Democratic Party after the hard-fought, 16-month race between the candidates.
Obama made history on Tuesday when he became the first black to win a U.S. major-party presidential nomination. Clinton would have been the first woman to do so.
The former first lady did not immediately concede the race but told supporters in a letter on Wednesday she would hold an event on Saturday where she would formally back Obama.
Obama has not tipped his hand about whom he might pick as his running mate and when asked publicly about the option of choosing Clinton, he has praised her but emphasized his selection process would be deliberative and wide-ranging.
Clinton was seen as having promoted the idea of her becoming the vice presidential nominee when she told supporters in a conference call on Tuesday that she would be “open” to it if it would help her party win the White House.
Obama told reporters he “appreciated” the statement from Clinton’s aide deferring to him on the running mate choice.
The Illinois senator noted Clinton had been involved in the selection process before when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, chose Al Gore as his running mate in 1992.
“We are going to be equally deliberative in how we move forward,” Obama said as he traveled in Virginia, which is expected to be a battleground state in his general election race in November against Republican Sen. John McCain.
During a campaign stop in Bristol, in the rural, southwestern part of Virginia, Obama turned his focus to McCain, mocking the Arizona senator’s health care proposals.
McCain’s plan would use tax credits to help shift from the employer-based insurance coverage system to a more open-market approach where people could choose from competing policies.
The approach is similar to one offered by President George W. Bush that did not gain traction in Congress.
“Like George Bush, Senator McCain has a plan to only take care of the healthy and the wealthy,” Obama said, calling McCain’s plan “Bush-lite.”
Obama also put his stamp on his party by instituting a ban on donations from lobbyists at the Democratic National Committee, making it comply with the policy for his campaign.
He said special interests in Washington, represented by the influence of lobbyists, had blocked progress on issues like health care for too long.
“We won’t take another dime from Washington lobbyists or special interest (political action committees),” Obama said. “They will not fund my party. They will not run our White House. They will not drown out the voices of the American people,” he said.
Obama has begun to take over Democratic Party operations, dispatching adviser Paul Tewes to the DNC to begin organizing the fall campaign.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean will remain in place, and welcomed Obama’s team.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Donna Smith; Editing by Peter Cooney)
To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/