In the end, the same man who ushered Hillary Rodham Clinton into electoral politics nine years ago pushed her out.
On Wednesday, Clinton was asking supporters to wait — it was unclear for what — and to give her time to gather her thoughts. Many seemed willing to accede to the request, but Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the blunt, 77-year-old dean of New York’s congressional delegation, had had enough.
In public statements and on a crucial afternoon conference call, he told Clinton it was time to go. And Rangel, for reasons of state politics, personal history and race, is not a man Clinton could afford to ignore.
“Unless she has some good reasons — which I can’t think of — I really think we ought to get on with” endorsing Obama, he told ABC News yesterday afternoon.
Rangel figures large in the Clinton legend: According to the official story, he first suggested to Clinton that she run for Senate in New York. This year, he held Clinton’s African-American supporters in line for her, despite the temptation many felt to back her surging rival. And he’s a powerful figure in the state to which she now must return.
A staffer close to the Clinton campaign said the candidate took Rangel's response to heart. "She strongly values his opinions, and they definitely made her think about what was going on."
Rangel’s move came after what had become, for some of the House members who had endorsed Clinton, an unbearable day of uncertainty.
By the time the polls closed on Tuesday night and Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, it was clear to many of them that Clinton had to drop out.
After months of campaigning with her head down, the shift in pace and direction was going to be abrupt, no matter how long she took to gather her bearings.
"She wanted a day or two to talk to her supporters," said a source close to the Clinton campaign. "That was very important to her, especially because she's been in a bubble."
Yet she didn’t have that luxury, not after Tuesday’s speech, not after failing to even acknowledge that Obama had reached the delegate threshold necessary to claim the Democratic nomination. While her Senate colleagues were willing to wait a few more days until her formal exit, members of the House were intent on accelerating the end of her campaign.
She huddled at her Arlington, Va., headquarters Wednesday with top advisers, discussing her diminished options and leaving supporters free to mount a campaign on her behalf for the vice presidential nod. Even close supporters were unsure what she was waiting for, beyond a chance to clear her head, and all assumed she would be leaving the race within days.
But Clinton seemed to think she could postpone the inevitable and had her aides convene a pair of conference calls with Senate and House supporters. Her message, a prominent supporter said, was to be: “Please wait.”
The first call, around 4 p.m., went as planned. At least seven of Clinton's Senate supporters participated, and the tone was tame, even congratulatory.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who was on the call, described the exchange as cordial and respectful, with no demands that Clinton drop out and back Obama.
"There was tremendous pride in Sen. Clinton, and much of the conversation was focused on thanking her for her campaign,” she said.
Then, at 5 p.m., she spoke with House backers — including Rangel — for about 20 minutes.
"The tone of the call was 'What do you guys think?'" a source close to the campaign said.
Democratic House members who participated on the call said the first comments were supportive, expressing a willingness to wait.
Then Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank — whose sister, Ann Lewis, is a top Clinton adviser — chimed in with a dose of reality.
"It just seemed to me, once it was over it was over," he said in an interview Thursday. "I said she should go out with dignity and not look like she was being pushed."
"Someone said what about waiting a week, and I said this isn't going to hold," he explained. "You know you're not talking about the 10 best secret keepers in America."
Rangel then stepped in. Repeating his public comments from earlier in the afternoon, he stressed the need for party unity and expressed concern that New York Reps. Yvette D. Clarke, Gregory W. Meeks and Edolphus Towns — whose heavily black districts had voted for Obama — could face viable primary challenges from pro-Obama candidates if they didn't move quickly to get behind the presumptive nominee.
"She wanted to talk to supporters and get advice, so she got advice," Rangel told reporters Thursday. "Love and affection doesn't have a damn thing to do with counting votes."
Clinton understood the problem.
"Hillary would never want to do something that would impact another person's chances and jeopardize their seats," said someone familiar with the call.
On the call, Rangel was firm.
He suggested holding an event where Clinton could endorse Obama. "That way we're endorsing Barack through you," he told her.
"What I was worried about was, I couldn't explain it," Rangel said the next day. "'You want unity, you want someone to win, but you don't endorse? It doesn't work out."
Clinton ended the call on a note of gratitude. "Thank you all so much. You mean so much to me. We'll get moving with Charlie's idea," she said, according to a source.
But to her staffers, Rangel’s words added new urgency to their deliberations.
“Charlie’s comment certainly stood out,” said an aide.
Clinton hung up, advisers say, still without having made a final decision about the timing of her departure, but with a clear understanding that her window was closing. Her advisers began discussing the timing of her exit, and when word of preliminary plans for a Friday announcement leaked to ABC News, they knew they wouldn’t be able to beat back this final media wave.
Later that night, the Clinton campaign announced she would be holding a Friday rally "to thank her supporters and express her support for Sen. Obama and party unity."
In a mark of the haste with which the decision had been made, it was quickly changed: The event, a later press release said, would be on Saturday, not on Friday.
The three African-American members from New York whom Rangel had mentioned instantly announced they would endorse Obama.
Then, on Thursday, the entire New York congressional delegation stood in front of the Democratic National Committee building to announce, as a press release put it, "their unanimous approval of the decision by Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign to support the Democratic nomination of Sen. Barack Obama."
Rangel spoke on their behalf.
David Rogers and Martin Kady II contributed to this story.