Sen. Christopher Dodd endorsed one-time presidential rival Barack Obama on Tuesday and said it is time for Democrats to join forces to defeat the Republicans in the fall campaign.
"I don't want a campaign that is divisive here, and there's a danger in that," Dodd said, although he denied he was nudging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to end her candidacy.
Dodd said Obama was "ready to be president and I am ready to support him in this campaign."
The two men appeared together at a news conference. Dodd is the first of the Democratic campaign dropouts to endorse another candidate.
Praise for former rival
He said Obama "has been poked and prodded, analyzed and criticized, called too green, too trusting and for all of that has already won" more than half the states and millions of votes.
"It's now the hour to come together. ... This is the moment for Democrats and independents and others to come together, to get behind this candidacy," he said.
Dodd said he spoke with Clinton on Monday evening to tell her of his decision.
Dodd said he wasn't worried that the candidates would go too far in their pursuit of victory, but that their aides and supporters might.
"We've witnessed a little bit of that" in recent days, he said.
That was an apparent reference to a photograph that shows Obama wearing a white turban and a wraparound white robe that was presented to him by elders in Wajir, in northeastern Kenya.
The gossip and news Web site The Drudge Report posted the photograph Monday and said it was being circulated by "Clinton staffers" and quoted an e-mail from an unidentified campaign aide. Drudge did not include proof of the e-mail in the report.
The Clinton campaign has said it did not sanction circulation of the photo.
Obama told reporters, "I don't think that photograph was circulated to enhance my candidacy, I think that's fair to say.
"... Do I think that is reflective of Senator Clinton's approach to the campaign, probably not."
Much sought-after support
Dodd, who won his Senate seat in 1980 and chaired the Democratic National Committee from 1995-1996, has long-standing ties to the Clintons.
Dodd is a “superdelegate,” one of nearly 800 Democratic officeholders and party officials who automatically attend the national convention and can vote for whomever they choose. They have become an important force in the close race between Clinton and Obama, and both candidates are lobbying hard for their support.
During the campaign, Dodd cast himself as an experienced leader who unites people. He stressed his long Senate career, foreign policy experience and work on education and children’s issues. But his long-shot candidacy, overshadowed by the huge campaign accounts and star power of Clinton and Obama, never caught fire.
Still, Dodd’s popularity with liberal voters could benefit Obama on both domestic and foreign policy issues.
Dodd voted in 2002 to authorize military intervention in Iraq, but has become an outspoken critic of the war and now calls his vote a mistake. He has said he would oppose an escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq and has said Congress should consider withholding funding for such a troop increase.
Dodd also could help Obama with Hispanic voters. A fluent Spanish speaker, Dodd served in the Peace Corps in a rural village in Dominican Republic from 1966-68 and has had a strong interest in Latin American affairs throughout his career.
Since his election to the House in 1974, Dodd has forged strong ties with labor unions, tried impose fiscal accountability on corporations and championed family and children’s issues. He chairs the powerful Senate Banking Committee.
Dodd was the chief Senate sponsor of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or to tend to a personal or family illness.