UNITY, N.H. — At a rally staged in a field of wildflowers, in a town so small that some residents of this state had never heard of it, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to show Friday that if they could put months of divisive campaigning behind them, so too should their supporters.
The joint appearance under a strong summer sun capped a choreographed six-hour trip that started in Washington with a kiss between former rivals on an airport tarmac and ended in a rural New Hampshire outpost that attracted a crowd larger than the population of the town.
Shortly after 1 p.m., Obama and Clinton emerged from Unity Elementary School, flanked by photographers who captured them smiling and strolling their way to the gathering of more than 4,000 people. When it was time for their introduction, Obama worked the line first and she followed.
It took three renditions of U2’s “Beautiful Day” for them to make it to the stage.
From the name of the town to their complementary wardrobes (his blue tie matched her pantsuit), the day was a harmonious and near-flawless public reconciliation after the most hard-fought primary campaign in a generation.
“Unity is not only a beautiful place as we can see, it’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?” Clinton said as soon as she stepped to the microphone. “And I know when we start here in this field in Unity, we’ll end on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president.”
Obama returned the praise, saying more than once that he needs her and former President Bill Clinton on his side.
“I’ve admired her as a leader, I’ve learned from her as a candidate, I am proud to call her my friend,” he said, “and I know how much we’ll need both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton as a party and a country in the months and years to come.”
Obama and Clinton met Friday in front of the cameras at Reagan National Airport, where their motorcades arrived simultaneously. He pecked her on the cheek and they boarded his campaign plane, sitting together through the flight. On the hour-long bus ride from the airport to Unity, the senators reminisced, said David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist.
“It was very warm,” he said.
On stage, Clinton didn’t break her smile when the crowd chanted “Yes we can,” Obama’s signature call. And Obama egged on an audience member who yelled, “Hillary rocks.”
“She rocks,” Obama repeated. “That’s the point I’m trying to make.”
But if there was unity on stage, it wasn’t uniform throughout the crowd.
Two women held “Hillary for President” signs above their heads during the speeches. One of them, who stuffed bits of napkins into her ears while Obama spoke, intermittently yelled out her disapproval: “We want Hillary!”
Other women admitted to heavy hearts about the outcome. They came to Unity from Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Vermont to watch her body language and to hear her words. They were looking for clues that she’s moving on, so they can, too.
“I’m disappointed that she was not the candidate,” said Mary Ann Allsop, 51, a resident of Concord, N.H., who said she almost wore her “Hillary” button. “I still think she should have been.”
When asked whether she would vote for Obama, Allsop considered the thought for a few minutes before replying yes.
Clinton attempted to reel in the disaffected.
“To anyone who voted for me and is now considering not voting or voting for Sen. McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider,” she said.
She encouraged her supporters to join Obama “to create an unstoppable force for change we can believe in.”
“I know that he’ll work for you,” Clinton said. &ldqu;He’ll fight for you, and he’ll stand up for you every single day in the White House.”
The reunion of two political titans could not have been staged in a more secluded spot — in a town with no stop lights, one general store and residents who prize the isolation. The biggest event of the year is a festival with a cast-iron skillet toss. The honorary mayor, Ken Hall, wore a pair of suspenders and new sneakers he bought for the occasion.
“I am a life-long Republican, and I voted for Sen. McCain,” Hall said. “But I may be part of this change.”
By Wednesday night, the owner of the general store, Will’s Place, had resorted to chasing TV reporters out of the parking lot because they were scaring away his regular customers.
“People move here because they like their privacy,” said Cheri LeMere, 39, a clerk at Will’s Place for 11 years. “I can’t see someone living here who wants to be noticed.”
The Obama campaign picked Unity for its name and its dead-even results in the primary: Clinton received 107 votes, as did Obama. Someone in New Hampshire brought the town to the attention of campaign manager David Plouffe, and aides fixated on making Unity the site of their premier unity event — despite the extraordinary logistical hurdles.
The campaign created a rally site out of an elementary school field by trucking in bleachers, American flags and giant letters that spelled “UNITY.”
The 4,000 people who showed up were bused from remote locations. They began arriving at dawn, and it took hours to transport everybody to Unity and hours more for them to make it back to their cars. The lines were long for the security searches, the food truck and the porta-potties.
They came and stood for hours under a scorching sun for different reasons.
Some wanted to witness history. Some wanted closure, and others wanted a glimpse of Obama, their choice from the start. Like the more than 300 journalists who decamped here, they looked for body language and other hints of whether Obama and Clinton's chemistry is real, whether unity is possible between these former competitors.
Miren Etcheverry, 53, a former Hillary supporter who still wishes she had prevailed, said she was slowly converting.
“On a scale of one to 10, I’m a six and a half,” she said, “and rising.”