After days of hammering at Republican rival Senator John McCain, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama struck a conciliatory note and urged unity in service of a greater good in a speech to college graduates.
Obama was filling in for Senator Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last week and had planned to deliver the graduation address at Wesleyan University. Kennedy has endorsed Obama in the nominating contest against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and has campaigned for him.
“We may disagree as Americans on certain issues and positions, but I believe we can be unified in service to a greater good. I intend to make it a cause of my presidency, and I believe with all my heart that this generation is ready and eager and up to the challenge,” Obama told this year’s graduating class.
The Illinois senator peppered his speech with references to the Kennedy legacy: former US president John F. Kennedy urging Americans to ask what they can do for their country, the Peace Corps and Robert F. Kennedy talking about people creating “ripples of hope.”
In Puerto Rico, where she hopes for a big primary victory June 1, Clinton told churchgoers that faith has sustained her through her arduous and faltering duel with the ascendant Obama.
Clinton is trailing Obama and has almost no chances of getting the nomination. Some prominent Democrats have been calling for her to step down, fearing that a protracted nomination battle might ruin the party’s changes in the November general election.
The latest to do so was former president Jimmy Carter, who said on Sunday during an interview with Sky News in London that Clinton should abandon her battle by early June.
But former first lady spoke of her determination to stay in the race despite trailing Obama, who picked up three more superdelegates in Hawaii on Sunday, giving him a total of 1,977 delegates, just 49 delegates short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination.
Clinton has 1,779.
She also said on Sunday that her comments two days earlier about the long and unpredictable primary process, in which she mentioned the 1968 assassination of senator Robert F. Kennedy, had been taken out of context and twisted into something “completely different — and completely unthinkable.”
Some hearing her on Friday were reminded of the other major assassination of 1968 — of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. — and thought she had made a veiled reference to the possibility that Obama might be killed, leaving her a clear path to the nomination.
On television Sunday, top advisers to both Clinton’s and Obama’s campaigns said they were moving on from the issue.
“This issue is done,” David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, declared on ABC’s This Week.
Clinton is campaigning for Puerto Rico’s 55 pledged delegates to the national Democratic convention. The New York senator is expected to win the contest, thanks partly to her ties to the large Puerto Rican community in her home state.
Later in the day, Clinton waded into the politics of US-Cuba relations, saying there are some promising signs of change under new Cuban President Raul Castro, but more substantive moves must be made.
Cuba, she said, should “take immediate action to demonstrate its good faith” by releasing political prisoners, allow free speech, and hold open and competitive elections.