Hillary Rodham Clinton ended her historic quest to become the first female president Saturday, congratulating Democratic rival Barack Obama and throwing her full support behind him.
The former first lady told supporters packed into the ornate National Building Museum on Saturday that she was withdrawing from the race.
The speech began a little before 1 p.m. ET.
"This isn't the party I planned but I still like the company," Clinton said, thanking her supporters profusely.
"Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him," Clinton said of Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee. "I endorse him and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me," Clinton said.
"We have to take our energy, our passion and our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next present of the United States," Clinton told her supporters.
Obama, in a statement, declared himself "thrilled and honored" to have Clinton's support.
"I honor her today for the valiant and historic campaign she has run," he said. "She shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere, who now know that there are no limits to their dreams. And she inspired millions with her strength, courage and unyielding commitment to the cause of working Americans."
For Clinton and her supporters, it was a poignant moment, the end of an extraordinary run that began with an air of inevitability and certain victory. About 18 million people voted for her; it was the closest a woman has come to capturing a nomination.
"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.
Indeed, her speech repeatedly returned to the milestone her candidacy represented for women. In primary after primary, her support among women was a solid bloc of her voting coalition. She noted that she'd received the support of women who were 80 and 90 years old, born before women could even vote.
She acknowledged the unprecedented success of Obama's candidacy, as well.
"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.
Obama secured the 2,118 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday after primaries in South Dakota and Montana. He planned to spend the weekend at home in Chicago.
In deciding to suspend her campaign, Clinton kept some options open. She gets to retain her delegates to the nominating convention this summer and she can continue to raise money. It also means she could reopen her campaign if circumstances change before the Denver convention, but gave no indication that was her intention.
Supporters began lining up at dawn to attend the farewell address. A smattering of Obama backers showed up as well, saying they did so as a gesture of party unity.
Clinton backers described themselves as sad and resigned. "This is a somber day," said Jon Cardinal, one of the first in line. Cardinal said he planned, reluctantly, to support the Illinois senator in the general election. "It's going to be tough after being against Obama for so long," he said.
The endorsement was expected but came after several false starts last week in which various media reported Clinton would drop out.
Clinton herself hinted about her intentions to back Obama.
"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 told supporters in an online message late last week.
The two had a face-to-face meeting Thursday evening at the Washington home of a Senate colleague, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, where they discussed the campaign to come. They spoke alone for about an hour. Both were laughing when they finished.
Clinton was expected to campaign for Obama and to help with fundraising, while seeking his assistance in retiring her $30 million campaign debt. The New York senator has told colleagues she would be interested in joining Obama as his running mate.
The undisputed front-runner when she announced her candidacy in January 2007, Clinton saw her march to the nomination derailed a year later after being swamped by Obama in Iowa's leadoff caucuses. She stayed alive after a narrow victory in New Hampshire five days later. But her campaign never fully regained its footing despite strong showings in several big-state primaries beginning in March.