Clinton Will End Her Bid Saturday

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton is ending her bid to become the first female U.S. president and will back rival Barack Obama on Saturday, capping a 17-month quest that began with the words "I'm in it to win it" with a plea for party unity.

Hours after Obama sealed the nomination, Democrats coalesced around his candidacy, sending a strong signal to Clinton that it was time to bow out. The former first lady said in a letter Thursday that she would express support for Obama's candidacy and congratulate him for gathering the necessary delegates to be the party's nominee.

"On Saturday, I will extend my congratulations to Senator Obama and my support for his candidacy," she said in a letter to her backers. "I have said throughout the campaign that I would strongly support Senator Obama if he were the Democratic Party's nominee, and I intend to deliver on that promise."

Clinton confirmed she would hold an event in Washington on Saturday to thank everyone who had backed her campaign.

"This has been a long and hard-fought campaign, but as I have always said, my differences with Senator Obama are small compared to the differences we have with Senator [John] McCain and the Republicans," she said in the letter.

Clinton has not decided whether to officially close the campaign or suspend it, allowing her to keep control of her delegates to the nominating convention, aides said.

Clinton spent much of Wednesday talking to supporters, many of whom urged her to halt her bid now that Obama has clinched the nomination. Obama attended two fund-raising events in New York on Wednesday night and acknowledged her decision.

"Your junior senator from New York engaged in an extraordinary campaign," he told attendees at one fund-raiser. "Now that the interfamily squabble is done, all of us can focus on what needs to be done in November."

Obama, the first black candidate to lead a major U.S. party into a White House race, announced a three-member team to head his search for a running mate.

McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, proposed that Obama join him for a series of joint summer town-hall meetings across the country. Obama's campaign manager called the idea "appealing" but made no immediate commitment.

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John Kennedy, will vet prospective Obama running mates along with former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Jim Johnson, former chief executive of the mortgage lender Fannie Mae, who performed the same task for Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

Near the top of their agenda will be questions about a possible teaming with Clinton, who has indicated interest in the job after her presidential bid fell short.

"We're going to be having a conversation in coming weeks," Obama told reporters when asked about Clinton.

Obama on Tuesday night secured the 2,118 delegates to claim the Democratic nomination.