Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd on Tuesday endorsed the presidential campaign of his colleague from Illinois, Sen. Barack Obama, saying it is time for Democrats to rally around a consensus candidate and bring an end to the nomination fight before it becomes too divisive — though he denied he was calling on Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 to drop out.

“It’s now the hour to come together,” Dodd said at a news conference in Cleveland, where Obama was campaigning in the run-up to Ohio’s primary next week. “This is the moment for Democrats and independents and others to come together, to get behind this candidacy.”

The endorsement from Dodd, who ended his own bid for the presidency after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses last month, provides the institutional backing of a 27-year Senate veteran as Obama seeks to capitalize on the momentum from 11 straight victories over Clinton.

Republican strategist Dan Schnur — who has worked on four presidential campaigns, most recently as the national communications director for Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2000 — said the endorsement could help bring an end to Clinton’s candidacy.

“Dodd’s endorsement helps put a stamp of approval from the Democratic establishment on Obama’s candidacy,” Schnur, who is not affiliated with any campaign in this year’s election, wrote in an e-mail. “It has much more to deal with finishing off Clinton in the primary than a general election impact.”

But Ben Stango ’11, president of Yale Students for Hillary, said he thinks the endorsement’s impact will be limited.

“It’s definitely a blow to us, but I don’t think — seeing that Connecticut has passed — that it’s going to make that big of a difference,” Stango said. “But, I mean, who knows right now what’s going to make a difference and what’s not.”

After refraining from offering an endorsement prior to Connecticut’s Feb. 5 primary — even as other Connecticut politicians, including New Haven Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. began to rally behind Obama — Dodd offered his endorsement on the afternoon of the 20th, and possibly last, debate of the primary season.

In an e-mail statement to supporters, Dodd called Obama “uniquely qualified” to confront a struggling economy, terrorist threats and the war in Iraq.

Roy Occhiogrosso, a top Democratic strategist in Connecticut, said Dodd’s standing in the Democratic Party and his status as Obama’s former competitor give the endorsement real weight.

“[Dodd] is obviously extremely experienced and knowledgeable about foreign affairs,” Occhiogrosso said. “For people who might question whether Obama has the experience necessary, Chris Dodd standing there saying, ‘This is the guy I support,’ says something.”

Recent polls of voters across the country — and in Ohio and Texas, which will also hold its primary March 4 — show Obama making steady gains against Clinton. A Feb. 14 Quinnipiac poll showed Clinton with a 21-point lead in Ohio, while another, conducted Feb. 18-23, showed her leading, 51 to 40 percent. In Texas, a CNN/OpinionResearch Poll released Tuesday showed Obama leading Clinton, 50 to 46 percent, just outside the margin of error, after Clinton had led last week, 50 to 48.

Occhiogrosso said the way in which voters perceive last night’s debate could affect the impact of the endorsement.

“Some people at the national level believe we are reaching a tipping point, if we aren’t already there, and people are making decisions,” he said. “Debates can be turning points … or opinions [people] have may only be cemented. There hasn’t been a mad rush to either candidate yet, but there could be now before Tuesday.”

Or, he added, there could simply be steady flow of support until after Tuesday’s primaries.

Jacob Koch ’10, campus coordinator for Yale for Obama, noted that Dodd’s endorsement comes at a time when Obama has been receiving endorsements from influential unions, including SEIU and the Teamsters.

“With Dodd, it shows that serious people and serious politicians, who have committed time and energy themselves to their own campaigns, have thought about it and have said that Senator Obama is the best candidate for the job,” Koch said.

—The Associated Press contributed reporting.