Local Politics

His Candidacy Over, Edwards' Positions Hold Sway

Posted January 30, 2008 6:40 p.m. EST
Updated January 30, 2008 9:37 p.m. EST

— Although John Edwards ended his bid for the presidency Wednesday, supporters and political observers said the former North Carolina senator helped shape the debate for the rest of the campaign.

Edwards announced his decision at a news conference in New Orleans, the same city he used as a backdrop to launch his campaign in December 2006 because he saw New Orleans as a prime example of poverty in America and governmental neglect.

He didn't provide a reason for the move, which came two days after he announced plans to crisscross the country before next week's "Super Tuesday" group of primaries. His wife, Elizabeth, was at the news conference, quelling speculation that her health and ongoing fight against cancer played a role in the decision.

Even as he bowed out, Edwards continued to push for better lives for the nation's poor. He said he had extracted promises from U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, to make fighting poverty key elements of their campaigns – and a policy focus if they win the presidency.

"Sen. Edwards, I think, drove the policy debate," said Ed Turlington, a longtime friend and adviser.

Turlington said he is disappointed Edwards dropped out of the race, but he said the decision was likely both political and personal.

"I think he thought it was a good time to evaluate where the campaign was and decide what was the best decision for him, his family, and the party," he said. "I'm personally disappointed he's not going to be elected president this year, but I'm really proud of the campaign he ran."

Kate Michelman, an Edwards adviser and former president of the abortion rights group NARAL-Pro Choice America, agreed with Turlington that Edwards served a necessary role in the campaign.

"John Edwards being in this campaign has made a difference for this country, this world and this party," Michelman said. "He identified the issues and shaped those issues for the campaign better than anyone else."

Edwards is "a fiery champion for the middle class (who) shifted public debate to real and serious questions facing American families," North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said in a statement.

Gov. Mike Easley said Edwards "focused on issues of critical concern to all Americans" and "gave voice to many who all too often are left out of our political process."

But Linda Daves, chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said she wasn't surprised Edwards' candidacy never took off. "No candidate cornered the market on pessimism quite like John Edwards," she said in a statement.

Democratic consultant Gary Pearce, who ran Edwards' 1998 Senate campaign, said he thought Edwards would at least try to stay in through the Super Tuesday primaries. It was after those contests that he dropped out of the 2004 presidential race.

"Most people were surprised. I think even a lot of his supporters here were getting fundraising e-mails (Tuesday)," Pearce said.

But the pressure was building on Edwards, he said.

"You finish third. You finish third. You finish third. At what point have you stopped being a factor and you're just standing in the way of the party picking someone?" he said.

With Edwards out, political analysts said it would be easier for Democrats to choose between Clinton and Obama, and the chances of a brokered convention go down.

Edwards returned to the Triangle Wednesday evening. Although he didn't elaborate on his future plans during his announcement, Pearce and others said he still has some political leverage and could secure some sort of leadership position in a future administration.

"What you will probably see next – and I couldn't predict when – is he'll endorse Barack Obama," Pearce said. "I think there is not a chance he'll endorse Hillary. I think there's a bad feeling there."