Thursday, January 31, 2008

FOCUS On The Politics of Poverty


John Edwards' campaign for the Democratic Party nomination ends today, with the candidate not even making it to Super Tuesday.

There is no doubt that there are many reasons for the poor showings that led to his withdrawal. He had two formidable and well-financed opponents, of course, but it is a mistake to think that his basic message did not play a part as well.

"Poverty," according to Edwards, "is the cause of my life." The voters did not respond with similar enthusiasm, however, and the obvious question is, Why not?

The answer can't be as simple as the suggestion that it is the messenger and not the message that is the problem. Rival candidates unable to break out of single digit polling may not have been the ideal messengers for their individual marquee issues, but when their messages show signs of gaining electoral traction, the rest of the pack rushes in with their own five-point plan.

Not so with poverty relief, even as the state of the economy shifts to center stage and almost everybody has something to say about stimulus packages.

When Edwards last summer completed his eight state poverty tour, modeled on Robert F. Kennedy's similar tour across America 40 years earlier, why didn't the issue strike a chord with a larger share of the electorate?

Certainly, the shame of poverty amidst plenty is no less significant now than then. There are, in Edwards' fine phrase, "two Americas," and the gap between the richest Americans and the poorest has been increasing fairly steadily since the 1970s and throughout the largest period of economic expansion of the 20th century.

Many predicted that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans' 9th Ward would retain considerable political potency among voters. CNN reporters were quite confident in their early pronouncements that a renewed national conversation on race and poverty was certain to follow.

But it did not happen. The stubborn fact remains that New Orleans is yesterday's news, and poverty in America is not a winning ticket in the presidential lottery.

Perhaps the explanation lies with the familiar observation that the poor don't vote in numbers comparable to better-off economic demographics.

While we know that pocketbook issues often crowd out other important concerns, even those of war and peace, the issue of poverty has resonated more broadly in the past among voters who have shown a capacity to be moved by considerations other than their own economic self-interest.

Even in purely self-interested terms, there are reasons for thinking that the plight of the poor should hit closer to home for more Americans, many of whom, as polls show, feel increased anxiety over their own economic uncertainty. Unlike in Robert Kennedy's era, poverty is now a phenomenon affecting working people at almost twice the rate of the 1960s.

Nonetheless, many people who feel economic insecurity don't see themselves as potentially part of the poor, a demographic many tend to see as a distinct, permanent economic class. The poor are different, many may think, and popular explanations of the fundamental causes of poverty reinforce that idea.

Americans are divided over the way they understand poverty and its causes. There are two Americas here as well.

About half consider the principal cause of poverty to be associated with various personal behaviors and habits, which are more or less up to the individual to do something about.

The other half point to various social structural impediments - e.g., low wages, lack of health insurance, lack of educational and other conditions favorable to social mobility - that lock people into fates that are largely beyond their control.

The post-Reagan Democratic consensus largely abandoned poverty as a major issue in favor of the concerns of the middle class, and, with it, they abandoned their historic emphasis on social structural forces that government can address. To the extent that poverty is seen largely as a sign of a personal failing, then the case for governmental action withers.

The rhetoric of the 1992 Clinton campaign reveals just how consequential the Democratic Party's shift in political emphasis and rhetoric was to become. They discovered the voting bloc made up of those "who work hard and play by the rules."

The new "third way" Democrats struggled to win back the so-called Reagan Democrats. These Reagan defectors had complained that the interests of the poor had displaced concern for middle-income voters, but the very language chosen to frame the party's renewed commitments to the middle class had profound and lasting implications for the anti-poverty movement.

In effect, the change in language represented a wholesale capitulation to the Reaganites' favored explanation of poverty as primarily a consequence of morally culpable personal failings and a lack of personal responsibility among the poor.

When Clinton emphasized the need to "end welfare as we know it," his clever slogan was meant to signal a greater moral and intellectual affinity to the personal responsibility explanation championed by the right, and, most importantly, the shift in rhetoric was unaccompanied by any real program for ending poverty as we know it.

The response to the fate of the Clinton health insurance plan is another example of how much the rhetorical landscape changed. When the political backlash to Clinton's plan for universal access to health insurance emerged, it came from the insured who feared loss of benefits such as choice of physician.

The health care debate from that point forward was transformed. For most of the decade, the cause of universal health care gave way to the patients' rights movement aimed at preserving what the reasonably well-off segments of society already had.

The legacy of the Democrats' strategic political shift away from poverty as a focal concern shapes the options the Democrats have for going forward.

To the extent that Democrats once again want to mount a serious anti-poverty agenda, they have to do battle hobbled by the intellectually truncated rhetoric bequeathed to them. Once again, the case must be made for the comparable importance of social structural explanations of poverty.

As long as so many Americans are in the grip of the pernicious idea - validated by Democrats themselves - that it's largely the fault of the poor that they are poor, then no new consensus on the need to fight poverty can emerge.

Edwards seems to think that recitation of the stark facts of economic inequality or reminding voters of the harsh burdens faced by the poor are enough to effect change.

However, sufficient numbers of voters can be moved to embrace political action against poverty only when they first move beyond the seriously deficient causal story that both parties have embraced for the last 15 years.

A battle of ideas that was suspended for a time must be re-engaged if poverty as a viable political issue can be revived.

[© 2008 Madison Powers/CQ Politics.com]

FOCUS On Ballary


John Edwards's decision to suspend his campaign for the Democratic nomination leaves behind two important questions: Will he eventually endorse one of his rivals, and where will the Edwards vote go in upcoming primaries?

Aides said Wednesday morning Edwards will not make an immediate endorsement and in his departure speech in New Orleans he offered no hints about his thinking. Whom he might support -- should he choose to endorse in the near future -- is a question without an obvious answer.

Edwards appears to have little affection for Hillary Clinton. That has been obvious in most debates, but particularly beginning in Chicago last August at the YearlyKos convention.

There he drew a bright line of distinction by challenging her to join him and Barack Obama in rejecting contributions from Washington lobbyists. When she declined and defended those lobbyists, he had an issue that he never relinquished.

Edwards ran a crusade against Washington special interests and the political culture that has created such a cozy relationship between money and power. Clinton, he argued, symbolizes that relationship. She was, in his line of argument, a member in good standing of the status quo politics that he said desperately needed changing.

In debate after debate, he led or helped carry the fight to Clinton. A natural debater from his days as a trial lawyer, Edwards enjoyed the prime-time combat of their joint encounters -- in a way that Obama never seemed to.

The record is replete with quotations from Edwards denouncing Clinton's brand of politics. An endorsement of her would produce the most awkward press conference since John McCain grudgingly gave his support to George W. Bush in the spring of 2000.

Everything about Edwards's message suggests he and Obama are natural allies. As Edwards said in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and in the memorable debate in New Hampshire three days before that state's primary, voters want change and two candidates in the Democratic race offered it -- albeit with very different styles.

So it would be logical to assume that, if Edwards were to endorse, he likely would support the other change candidate in the race: Obama. But that is only one way to look at the choice he now faces.

Edwards has been in conversation with both Obama and Clinton over the past two weeks. How often and exactly what they discussed has been the subject of rumor and speculation but not much hard detail. Some reports suggested he was looking to make a deal with one of them, that he was interested in a cabinet post in an Obama or Clinton administration.

Aides said Wednesday that in his conversations with Clinton and Obama on Tuesday, he asked for and was given commitments that each would make poverty a more central part of their campaign messages and of their agendas, should they become president. But those were as easy for Clinton and Obama to agree to as they were for Edwards to request.

Whether there is anything more explicit in Edwards's discussions with Clinton and Obama will have to await later accounts. He is a hard-headed politician and a man used to making deals. It would be no surprise to learn that a possible endorsement could come after some understanding of a future role.

Edwards is hard-headed in another way, one that could lead him to endorse Clinton, improbable as that might seem given the way he has run his campaign. Over the course of the past year, Edwards has gotten to know Clinton and Obama extremely well.

He has shared stages at debates repeatedly and spent time in proximity to them in holding rooms back stage. He has been able to take their measure -- their intellect, their leadership skills, their toughness, their readiness to be president. Only Edwards and his wife Elizabeth know how he truly assesses his two rivals.

Until recently he seemed aligned with Obama in the effort to defeat Clinton. But at the South Carolina debate last week, he suddenly turned against Obama, challenging him in a way that suggests he questions whether Obama is truly prepared to stand up to the special interests in Washington.

He may not think Clinton will necessarily bring the kind of change to Washington that he has advocated, but he probably does not doubt her overall toughness.

Given all that, an endorsement of Obama still would seem the more likely course, but an endorsement of Clinton would not be a total surprise -- if Elizabeth Edwards agrees.

Where Edwards's vote might go is equally puzzling. I e-mailed Democratic pollster Mark Mellman after the news of Edwards's decision had come out and asked him where voters attracted to Edwards might now go. "Honest answer is its not clear," he replied.

He said there is an assumption that Clinton is no voter's second choice, that those who already are not supporting her made a decision early on that they never would. If true, that would mean Obama and his change message would pick up the biggest portion of the Edwards vote.

But there is some polling data, Mellman said, showing that more Edwards supports prefer Clinton over Obama as their second choice. In South Carolina, Edwards took white voters away from Clinton. Mellman also believes Edwards's decline in New Hampshire helped Clinton win a surprise victory.

Other strategists said Wednesday that there will not be a consistent pattern to the distribution of the Edwards vote. In Southern states next week, they said, Clinton will certainly benefit from the absence of Edwards. Among progressive Democrats in a states like California and Minnesota, however, Obama may be the beneficiary of Edwards's decision to suspend his candidacy.

John Edwards ended his campaign where it began a few days after Christmas 2007 -- in New Orleans, the city that came to symbolize his commitment to make poverty the central issue of his candidacy. He led the debate on other issues as well. He was the first to put out a plan for universal health care and he sharpened the debate about the about the role of special interests in Washington.

But his was an improbable campaign from the start, given the odds of anyone defeating both Clinton and Obama. Realistically, his hopes ended in Iowa, where he needed to win but finished second. Defeat in New Hampshire persuaded his wife Elizabeth that there was no viable road to the nomination. Nevada delivered the most disappointing result -- he ended with just four percent. South Carolina sealed his fate.

Now he is out. But he may have one more act in this drama.

[© 2008 Washington Post]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

FOCUS On John (2)


[Courtesy of Matthew Phillips]

I think it was somewhere between Centerville and Ottumwa that I first started to question John Edwards's sanity. Of course, 36 hours on a bus crisscrossing Iowa in the dead of winter and you're likely to question your own, as well.

By then it was 5 a.m. on Jan. 2, and we weren't even halfway through Edwards's 900-mile Marathon for the Middle Class bus tour. We'd just left a pancake breakfast at the home of an Edwards supporter in Centerville: population 6,000.

It was the third house we'd been to that night, and they were all starting to look the same: cozy living rooms packed with faces smiling over steaming mugs of coffee, a crackling fire and a Christmas tree, old ladies in sweatshirts with kittens stitched on the front, exhausted kids who'd clearly been dragged from bed to come support the cause.

At each stop the press would layer up and stagger off the bus into the crunchy snow—a thermometer outside a small-town bank said it was two degrees—and then Edwards would come up the walkway and in through the front door to cheers of "Go, John, go!" beaming and shaking hands, still looking as starched and presidential as ever, and way too tan for Iowa in January.

The speeches were mostly the same, dripping with populism. He would rail against corporate greed and how it was stealing our children's future, talk about the honor of working-class folks and about the homeless shelter in Des Moines he'd visited the other week that turns away 75 families a month.

He'd usually tell the story of Nataline Sarkisian, the 17 year-old girl from California who died in December when her health insurance company wouldn't pay for a liver transplant and remind them that he's the only candidate never to take a dime from a Washington lobbyist.

With a clenched fist and a set jaw Edwards would finish by saying that America needed a fighter and that he was the guy they should send into the ring. And that when he was president—not if but when—he promised to fight for them with every fiber in his body.

Then it was more smiles, a picture or two, and out the door, onto the bus and away into the night, down a dark road to the next stop. No one was going to outcampaign John Edwards. If he was going down, he was going down swinging. Some of us started wondering why we couldn't have been assigned to Fred Thompson. At least he slept, apparently a lot.

Edwards's campaign blitz in the final days before the Iowa caucuses sure seemed crazy at the time, but it's probably what gave him a one-point edge over Hillary Clinton—a difference of just seven delegates.

The campaign spun the second-place finish as though it were a landslide victory. "America clearly voted for change. Now it's between us and Obama," the Edwards camp said, and headed off to New Hampshire with a sigh of relief.

But over the next five days, whatever momentum Edwards had gained from Iowa was lost in the mix as the media fell over itself anointing Obama and sounding the death knell of Clinton, and then marveling at her snowy resurrection.

Despite strong debate performances, Edwards couldn't buy his way into the conversation no matter what he did. Whenever members of the press chatted up advisers like Joe Trippi or Jonathan Prince, the frustration of being the odd man out always bubbled to the surface. But what could they do? A white guy in a race for president against a woman and an African-American: it was hard to compete for the story.

Plus, it always struck me as just a bit off to watch Edwards, the handsome millionaire in a suit, with the sparkling teeth and the perfect hair, run as the champion of the working poor. Though his backstory was genuine—son of a mill worker, trial lawyer who spent 20 years suing corporations on behalf of the little guy—the performance never quite seemed right.

On the road Edwards always traveled in his bus, the Mainstreet Express, usually with his two young children and wife Elizabeth, and sometimes their 25-year-old daughter Cate. The press was for the most part relegated to a trailing van or bus.

Our chances to ask him questions were limited to hasty "press avails" after events. Exclusives? There were none. And the few times he actually took the time to come talk to us on or off the record—he brought coffee onto our bus one morning in Iowa—he always struck me as no different from when he was on the stump, or even on TV for that matter.

Maybe that's the mark of a good trial lawyer: always be convincing a jury. No matter what the polls said, Edwards's sunny and optimistic demeanor never flagged. Any suggestion of dropping out was quickly denied as implausible. "I'm in this till the end, and I intend to be my party's nominee," he'd say without even the slightest hint of irony or self-delusion.

So even after he got socked in Nevada and finished a distant third in his native South Carolina last weekend, I was surprised to hear the news that Edwards had dropped out. I'd always expected him to do what he said he would, to keep on keepin' on, at least until Feb. 5.

Just two days ago his press office sent out an e-mail about his recent online fund-raising surge and his Super Tuesday strategy. It's too early to say whether his finances or the health of his cancer-stricken wife had anything to do with the decision, but maybe he just felt that his job was done. "The support was still there but over the last few days it became clear that the path to the nomination was not," said campaign spokesman Mark Kornblau.

Though he never made much of a mark in the polls, Edwards has had a major impact on this race by driving the conversation, something he deserves a lot of credit for. He was the first candidate out with a universal health care plan and the first to rail against trade agreements like NAFTA that, he says, have cost America a million jobs.

He also brought a sense of morality and social justice to the race, themes both Obama and Clinton have folded into their stump speeches over the last month. Through a year of hard campaigning, Edwards has forced the Democratic Party to refocus itself on the plight of the poor.

In his resignation address in New Orleans Wednesday afternoon, Edwards said he had gotten both Clinton and Obama to pledge to make the eradication of poverty a central part of their administration.

He finished by urging his supporters not to give up on what's possible and to keep on fighting. He wasn't giving up so much as passing his torch to a stronger, faster candidate. He is gone now, but Obama and Clinton go forward carrying a torch that Edwards lit.

[© 2008 Newsweek, Inc.]

FOCUS On John (1)


John Edwards is nothing if not dogged. It's a quality that made him rich, and won him a seat in the U.S. Senate, and it's what kept him on the campaign trail on the quest for the Democratic nomination for President for the better part of the last five years.

But even Edwards' boundless optimism and energy has his limits, and today he admitted what all the pundits and politicos have been saying for the past month: the Democratic contest is a two-person race, and Edwards is not one of them.

Four days after coming in a disappointing third in his native state of South Carolina, Edwards told a crowd in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, where he launched his campaign more than a year ago, that he will "step aside so that history can blaze its path."

He leaves the race with promises from the two remaining Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to continue his commitment to poverty. "They have both pledged to me that as President of the United States they will both make poverty and economic inequality central to their presidencies," Edwards said. "This is the cause of my life and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause."

Edwards, who after speaking went with his family to work on some Habitat for Humanity houses being built in the area, did not endorse either Obama or Clinton. Though he has said many times in recent months that Obama and he are both "agents for change" while Clinton represents the "status quo," sources said he would not rule out anyone in considering his endorsement, which will likely not come before Super Tuesday.

He will now return home to North Carolina to spend time with his family, where he is expected to weigh which candidate could be most effective in furthering his priorities of poverty and corruption.

Edwards' challenge from the beginning of his presidential quest was to stay relevant. After losing the 2004 election as John Kerry's running mate, he no longer held a public platform, having chosen to run for President instead of a second term representing North Carolina in the Senate.

He signed up to head a Poverty Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and launched a charity with his wife, Elizabeth, called College for Everyone, where students worked 10 hours a week in exchange for scholarships.

Edwards' stump speech in 2004 had been about the two Americas, one where the poor live increasingly neglected lives and the other where the rich grow richer. That remained the central theme of his 2008 populist campaign.

"Our campaign from the very beginning has been about one central thing and that is to give voice to millions of Americans who have absolutely no voice in this democracy," he would say, as he did conceding South Carolina, never forgetting to remind voters of his Horatio Alger background as the son of a poor mill worker. "If you're one of the forgotten middle class, people who are working and struggling just to pay their bills, literally worried about every single day, we will give you voice in this campaign."

"John Edwards didn't really move to the left as much as he began to use the language of class war," said Michael Munger, a political science professor at Duke University. "And that was a tactic designed to appeal to the angry left in Iowa, and the to laid-off factory workers of South Carolina."

The strategy at first seemed shrewd: build on Edwards' surprisingly good showing in Iowa in 2004 and make his native South Carolina his firewall while garnering union support. It was designed to take on the establishment candidate that everyone knew was going to run: former First Lady Hillary Clinton.

What no one, not Clinton or Edwards, was prepared for was the insurgency candidacy of Senator Barack Obama. Suddenly Edwards was running against a version of himself in 2004: the young, fresh, optimistic face, the Washington outsider with a thin resume but lots of charm, ruffling some feathers as he jumped the line.

Except this version was an African American celebrity candidate with a cult-like following. Big and small donors flocked to Obama, the freshman Senator from Illinois, as did the endorsements, and suddenly Edwards seemed like a third wheel.

And there were other complications. Edwards announced his candidacy in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, redoubling up on his pledge to fight corruption in Washington on behalf of the neglected and needy. But he was plagued by a series of missteps that damaged his image as a crusader for the poor.

First came a spate of stories when Edwards built a $6 million home on 100 acres outside Chapel Hill in 2005. Then came an embarrassing disclosure that he paid $400 for his carefully coifed haircut. Finally, it turned out working with non-profits wasn't the only thing Edwards, a former trial lawyer whose estimated personal worth is as much as $30 million, did after the 2004 elections; he also worked for a New York hedge fund, earning an undisclosed sum.

When asked about a possible contradiction between his words and actions, Edwards gave the unconvincing reply that he wanted to learn about the economy: "I do think it's important for the President of the United States to have a good understanding of our financial markets, how they operate, where the incentives are, where the incentives aren't."

Even more seriously, in March 2007 Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer - she was first diagnosed in November 2004 - came back. While treatable, the disease had progressed to a stage that's incurable. Speculation raged that Edwards would drop out of the race, but he stayed in.

Six months later dropout rumors resurfaced when the campaign announced it would accept public financing. Facing not one, but two candidates who were outraising him 3 to 1, Edwards was forced to accept matching public funds in a deal that severely limited how much he could spend in comparison to his rivals. But, again, Edwards weathered the storm and forged on.

While he managed to pull out a surprising second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses, beating out Clinton, he placed a disappointing third in New Hampshire and his campaign was stunned when he garnered just 4% of the vote in the Nevada caucuses.

After losing South Carolina, the only state he won while in the race in 2004, he initially vowed to fight on all the way to the convention, focusing on southern states like Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma on Super Tuesday; many speculated that Edwards could play a key role in what is shaping up to be a drawn-out delegate fight between Clinton and Obama.

"In different ways we have been thinking and talking out loud since taking third in New Hampshire," Trippi said. "Every day we were looking for ways to break out against these two candidates ...

"It became clearer and clearer after South Carolina on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the press was really focused on Clinton and Obama that it was going to be tougher and tougher for us to break through...

"And contrary to what staff or pundits may say - the idea of playing the political game of kingmaker or spoiler never really appealed to him. In his mind it was a clear shot at the nomination or nothing."

Trippi, who had plane tickets to Atlanta for debate prep today, received an e-mail at 3 a.m. this morning to come instead to New Orleans, and he knew the decision had been made. In the end, with dwindling money and no victories in sight on Super Tuesday or beyond, Edwards had decided to call it quits.

Edwards leaves the race having made a big impact on the two remaining candidates. His populist rhetoric forced his rivals to compete for union support, and he was the first out of the gate with detailed plans for universal healthcare and education, putting pressure on the field to match him.

"He led on just about every single issue: poverty, economic stimulus to universal healthcare," said Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to Edwards' campaign. "He pushed both of them further than they would've gone without him. When they wanted to blur the lines and not have real proposals, he came out with them and forced the others to move ahead."

The former trial lawyer arguably won a majority of the debates, time and again challenging his opponents to refuse money from lobbyists and speed up their plans for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.

What his exit will mean at the polls is less clear. On the one hand, it should help Obama consolidate the sizable anti-Hillary contingent of the Democratic Party. At the same time, however, he drew more votes from Clinton than Obama in the first four contests - blue-collar white workers - so it could also help her fend off Obama, whose recent endorsement by Ted Kennedy should help with organized labor.

And if anyone should pay close attention to the race that Edwards has waged, it's Obama: if he doesn't win the nomination, four years from now he could be in John Edwards' shoes.

[© 2008 Time Magazine]

FOCUS On Poverty - John's Redux (II)


NEW ORLEANS - Democrat John Edwards bowed out of the race for the White House on Wednesday, saying it was time to step aside "so that history can blaze its path" in a campaign now left to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

"With our convictions and a little backbone we will take back the White House in November," said Edwards, ending his second campaign in a hurricane-ravaged section of New Orleans where he began it more than a year ago.

Edwards said Clinton and Obama had both pledged that "they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency."

"This is the cause of my life and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause," he said before a small group of supporters. He was joined by his wife Elizabeth and his three children, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack.

Edwards said that on his way to make his campaign-ending statement, he drove by a highway underpass where several homeless people live. He stopped to talk, he said, and as he was leaving, one of them asked him never to forget them and their plight.

"Well I say to her and I say to all those who are struggling in this country, we will never forget you. We will fight for you. We will stand up for you," he said, pledging to continue his campaign-long effort to end what he frequently said was "two Americas," one for the powerful, the other for the rest.

The former North Carolina senator did not immediately endorse either Clinton, seeking to become the first female president, or Obama, the strongest black candidate in history.

Edwards told reporters he would meet with Clinton and Obama before deciding whether to make an endorsement. He set no timetable for deciding whether to endorse either candidate.


Praise from Clinton, Obama

Both of them praised Edwards — and immediately began courting his supporters.

"John Edwards ended his campaign today in the same way he started it — by standing with the people who are too often left behind and nearly always left out of our national debate," Clinton said.

Obama, too, praised Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth. At a rally in Denver, he said the couple has "always believed deeply that two Americans can become one, and that our country can rally around this common purpose," Obama said. "So while his campaign may have ended, this cause lives on for all of us who still believe that we can achieve that dream of one America."

The impact of Edwards' decision will be felt in one week's time, when Democrats hold primaries and caucuses across 22 states, with 1,681 delegates at stake.

Four in 10 Edwards supporters said their second choice in the race is Clinton, while a quarter prefer Obama, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo poll conducted late this month.

Edwards amassed 56 national convention delegates, most of whom will be free to support either Obama or Clinton.

As expected, Edwards said he was suspending his campaign rather than ending it, but aides said that was simply legal terminology so that he can continue to receive federal matching funds for his campaign donations.

An immediate impact of Edwards' withdrawal will be six additional delegates for Obama, giving him 187, and four more for Clinton, giving her 253. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to secure the Democratic nomination.

Edwards won 26 delegates in the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina contests. Under party rules, 10 of those delegates will be automatically dispersed among Obama and Clinton, based on their vote totals in those respective contests. The remaining 16 remain pledged to Edwards, meaning his campaign will have a say in naming them.

Three superdelegates — mainly party and elected officials who automatically attend the convention and can support whomever they choose — had already switched from Edwards to Obama before news of Edwards' withdrawal from the race.

Kate Michelman, an adviser to the campaign and former president of NARAL-Pro Choice America, said she spoke to Edwards Wednesday morning.

“He felt that this was the moment to take this step, given the reality of this campaign. This campaign has been about two celebrity candidates — excellent and qualified candidates — but celebrity candidates,” Michelman said.

[© 2008 The Associated Press]

FOCUS On Poverty - John's Redux (I)


DENVER - Democrat John Edwards is exiting the presidential race Wednesday [January 30, 2008], ending a scrappy underdog bid in which he steered his rivals toward progressive ideals while grappling with family hardship that roused voters' sympathies but never diverted his campaign, according to The Associated Press and NBC News.

The two-time White House candidate notified a close circle of senior advisers that he planned to make the announcement at a 1 p.m. ET event in New Orleans that had been billed as a speech on poverty, according to two of his advisers. The decision came after Edwards lost the four states to hold nominating contests so far to rivals who stole the spotlight from the beginning — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

The former North Carolina senator will not immediately endorse either candidate in what is now a two-person race for the Democratic nomination, said one adviser, who spoke on a condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.


Family duty

Edwards waged a spirited top-tier campaign against the two better-funded rivals, even as he dealt with the stunning blow of his wife's recurring cancer diagnosis. In a dramatic news conference last March, the couple announced that the breast cancer that she thought she had beaten had returned, but they would continue the campaign.

Their decision sparked a debate about family duty and public service. But Elizabeth Edwards remained a forceful advocate for her husband, and she was often surrounded at campaign events by well-wishers and emotional survivors cheering her on.

Edwards planned to announce his campaign was ending with his wife and three children at his side. Then he planned to work with Habitat for Humanity at the volunteer-fueled rebuilding project Musicians' Village, the adviser said.

With that, Edwards' campaign will end the way it began 13 months ago — with the candidate pitching in to rebuild lives in a city still ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Edwards embraced New Orleans as a glaring symbol of what he described as a Washington that didn't hear the cries of the downtrodden.

Edwards burst out of the starting gate with a flurry of progressive policy ideas — he was the first to offer a plan for universal health care, the first to call on Congress to pull funding for the war, and he led the charge that lobbyists have too much power in Washington and need to be reigned in.

The ideas were all bold and new for Edwards personally as well, making him a different candidate than the moderate Southerner who ran in 2004 while still in his first Senate term. But the themes were eventually adopted by other Democratic presidential candidates — and even a Republican, Mitt Romney, echoed the call for an end to special interest politics in Washington.


Loyal following

Edwards' rise to prominence in politics came amid just one term representing North Carolina in the Senate after a career as a trial attorney that made him millions. He was on Al Gore's short list for vice president in 2000 after serving just two years in office. He ran for president in 2004, and after he lost to John Kerry, the nominee picked him as a running mate.

Elizabeth Edwards first discovered a lump in her breast in the final days of that losing campaign. Her battle against the disease caused her husband to open up about another tragedy in their lives — the death of their teenage son Wade in a 1996 car accident. The candidate barely spoke of Wade during his 2004 campaign, but he offered his son's death to answer questions about how he could persevere when his wife could die.

Edwards made poverty the signature issue of both his presidential campaigns, and he led a four-day tour to highlight the issue in July. The tour, the first to focus on the plight of the poor since Robert F. Kennedy's trip 40 years earlier, also was an effort to remind voters that a rich man can care about the less fortunate. It came as Edwards was dogged by negative coverage of his personal wealth, including his construction of a 28,000-square foot house, his work for a hedge fund that advised the superrich and $400 haircuts.

But even through the dark days of summer and as Obama and Clinton collected astonishing amounts of money that dwarfed his fundraising effort, Edwards maintained a loyal following in the first voting state of Iowa that made him a serious contender. He came in second to Obama in Iowa, an impressive feat of relegating Clinton to third place, before coming in third in the following three contests.

The loss in South Carolina was especially hard because it was where he was born and he had won the state in 2004. But Edwards performed well enough to pick up 58 delegates.

[© 2008 The Associated Press]