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Caroline Kennedy On Obama's Team To Vet Vice Presidential Candidates

NEDRA PICKLER   06/ 4/08 05:46 PM ET   AP

Caroline Kennedy And Obama

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama named a three-person team including Caroline Kennedy to lead his search for a running mate Wednesday while expressing confidence that the Democratic Party would soon unify after a bruising battle for the presidential nomination.

"I'm very confident of how we're going to be able to bring the party together," Obama said after a brief conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton, his vanquished rival.

Campaign officials said Kennedy, who is the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, as well as former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and longtime Washington insider Jim Johnson have already begun compiling information on potential running mates. They disclosed no names.

Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on Tuesday, taking a major step toward his goal of becoming the first black president. While Clinton has yet to concede defeat, she and associates have been maneuvering for the past 24 hours to gain her a place on the ticket.

Bob Johnson, the founder of the Black Entertainment Network, was among them, and said he was doing so with her blessing.

Johnson said he had written the Congressional Black Caucus asking its members to urge Obama to place Clinton on the ticket.

Clinton "didn't direct me to do it but she certainly knows what I'm doing," said Johnson, who angered Obama's aides earlier in the race when he obliquely referred to Obama's confessed drug use as a young man.

Democrats began closing ranks quickly.

Two senators swung behind Obama after remaining neutral throughout his long nominating battle with Clinton, as did Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the House leadership with close ties to both senators.

"We have a nominee of our party," said Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado also announced his endorsement.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who had been a Clinton supporter, announced he was backing Obama.

It hardly mattered in terms of delegate math _ after months of struggle, Obama had more than enough to prevail at the party convention in Denver in August.

But Mondale, Harkin, Salazar and others poised to endorse Obama later in the day were also sending a message to Clinton that her race is over, whether she will admit it or not.

Obama began his public day with an appearance before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where he pledged support for Israel and accused Republican rival John McCain of backing a "plan for staying, not a plan for victory" in Iraq.

Earlier, McCain freshened the criticism he directed at Obama on Tuesday night.

"I think he has exercised very bad judgment on national security issues and others," he said in a television interview.

The disclosure about the three-person veep vetting team was an unambiguous signal that Obama is turning his full attention to the general election campaign.

Kennedy's name came as a surprise, although she endorsed Obama at a critical time in the campaign last winter, saying he could be an inspirational leader like her father. She also campaigned for Obama.

Holder is a former federal prosecutor and District of Columbia Superior Court judge who held the No. 2 job at the Justice Department under President Clinton.

Johnson is widely known among Democrats for having helped previous candidates, including John Kerry four years ago, sift through vice presidential possibilities. He is a former chief executive officer for the mortgage lender Fannie Mae.

Obama and Clinton ran into each other backstage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee meeting, which they addressed separately Wednesday morning.

"I just spoke to her today, and we're going to be having a conversation in coming weeks, and I'm very confident how unified the Democratic party's going to be to win in November," Obama told reporters as he left the Senate.

Asked if Clinton indicated she planned to concede, Obama replied: "It wasn't a detailed conversation."

He dismissed a question about her refusal to concede after the final two primaries Tuesday night by saying she was "understandably focused on her supporters."

Clinton visited her campaign headquarters in suburban Virginia, where she thanked staff for their work. Aides said she was also phoning superdelegates and supporters, and planned to host an 89th birthday celebration at her Washington home for her mother, Dorothy Rodham.

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Filed by Nick Graham  |