WASHINGTON – The presidential race shifted to the nation's capital on Friday, with Democrats executing a carefully orchestrated plan to unify their party around presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.
Her likely general election rival, Donald Trump, continued his months-long effort to win over the Republican base, with events wooing top donors and evangelical voters.
With the primary contests all-but-over, a series of top Democrats formally announced their support for Clinton, headlined by the glowing endorsement of President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Within hours, Vice President Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined that effort, both backing Clinton and signaling to many of Sanders' supporters that it's time to unite around the party's presumptive nominee. Clinton and Warren met privately for about an hour Friday morning at Clinton's home in Washington, intensifying speculation that the progressive stalwart may be tapped for the vice presidency.
"If you really want to electrify the base you've got to get somebody who's been speaking to the base and is going to turn the base out," said Rep Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of Sanders' top supporters in Congress. He said he and other progressives would be thrilled if Clinton tapped Warren for her ticket.
Democrats in Washington are eager to unite their party against Donald Trump and avoid a lingering intraparty spat. Primary rival Bernie Sanders, who's vowed to take his political revolution to their national Democratic convention in July has been stressing his determination to defeat Trump, perhaps signaling that he may exit the race or at least shift his focus away from Clinton after the final primary election next Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, he retreated to his home in Burlington, Vt. to plot his next steps.
Clinton, meanwhile, delivered her first speech since becoming the presumptive nominee, addressing advocates at Planned Parenthood, a women's health organization and abortion provider. The non-profit was a strong champion of Clinton in the primaries, giving her its first endorsement in their 100 year history.
Describing Trump as someone who "doesn't hold women in high regard," Clinton launched into an unabashedly feminist attack on her GOP rival, arguing he would take the country back to "when abortion was illegal women had far fewer options and life for too many women and girls was limited."
"When Donald Trump says let's make America great again that is code for let's take America backward," she told the cheering audience.
Clinton's campaign believes that they could win over independent and Republican women turned off by Trump's bombastic rhetoric and history of sexist of misogynistic remarks. Later on Friday, she will host a fundraising dinner at her Washington home.
Trump addressed a gathering of evangelical voters at the annual Faith & Freedom conference before flying to Richmond for a rally.
Reading mostly from a teleprompter, he delivered a sharp rebuke to Clinton, declaring her "unfit to be president" while vowing to "restore faith to its proper mantle in American society."
As he took the stage, Trump boasted of the support he's received from evangelicals Christians, including a series of endorsements from Christian leaders, including Jerry Falwell Jr., who leads Liberty University.
"I happen to be Presbyterian," he also noted.
Many evangelical and conservative leaders remain deeply skeptical of Trump's candidacy — a resistance that was underscored by the speakers who proceeded him on Friday.
Former rival Carly Fiorina, who spoke immediately before Trump, failed to mention her party's presumptive nominee's name a single time during her remarks, which heavily criticized Clinton. Ralph Reed, chair of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, encouraged skeptics of Trump to consider what's at stake.
He cited the issue of abortion rights, noting Clinton's speech at Planned Parenthood, and stressed the Supreme Court, as well as the presidency, are on the ballot this fall.
"You see we understand that perfection is not the measure that should be applied, not only to any political leader, but to any man or woman," he said, calling to Christians to "put away our 'my way or the highway pride.'"
But he nonetheless took an apparent dig at Trump, who has sometimes struggled while discussing religion, after reading read a bible passage about humility
"That by the way, if you're looking it up, is One Corinthians, not two Corinthians," he said to laugh. It was a reference to Trump, who once cited "Two Corinthians" instead of "Second Corinthians."
Before the rally, Trump will be holding a private fundraiser. A copy of the invitation, obtained by The Associated Press, asks for donations up to $25,000 per couple. Donors wishing for a "photo opportunity" with Trump are asked to give $10,000 per person.
Meanwhile, in his long-expected endorsement, President Barack Obama pointed to Clinton's grit and determination but also called for "embracing" Sanders' economic message, which has galvanized liberals and independents. Obama sought to reassure Democrats that Clinton shares their values and is ready for the job.
The president plans to campaign next week with Clinton in Green Bay, Wisconsin, marking his first major foray into the 2016 campaign.
"It was a wonderful, meaning endorsement in every way," said Clinton, sipping an iced chai, during a stop at a muffin store in Washington.
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Ken Thomas, Erica Werner, Laurie Kellman and Sarah Grace Taylor contributed to this report.
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