Wednesday, May 14, 2008

FOCUS On Obama


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Democrat John Edwards has endorsed former rival Barack Obama, fresh signs of the party establishment embracing the likely nominee even as Hillary Rodham Clinton refuses to give up her long-shot candidacy.

Edwards appeared with Obama in Grand Rapids, Mich., as Obama campaigned in a critical general election battleground state.

The endorsement came the day after Clinton defeated Obama by more than 2-to-1 in West Virginia. The loss highlighted Obama's work to win over the "Hillary Democrats" - white, working-class voters who also supported Edwards in large numbers before he exited the race.

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator and the 2004 vice presidential nominee, dropped out of the race in late January.

Both Obama and Clinton immediately asked Edwards for his endorsement, but he stayed mum for more than four months. A person close to Edwards, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he wanted to get involved now to begin unifying the party. Obama also signed on to Edwards' poverty initiative, which was a major cause for Edwards in his campaign and since he left.

When he made his decision, Edwards didn't even tell many of his former top advisers because he wanted to make sure that he personally talked to Clinton to give her the news, said the person close to him. Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who has spoken favorably about Clinton's health care plan, did not travel with him to Michigan and is not part of the endorsement.

"We are here tonight because the Democratic voters have made their choice, and so have I," Edwards said to thunderous applause in Grand Rapids. He said Obama "stands with me" in a fight to cut poverty in half within 10 years, a claim Obama confirmed moments later.

Edwards told the rally that "we must come together as Democrats" to defeat Republican John McCain in November.

He also praised Clinton.

"We are a stronger party" because of her involvement and "we're going to have a stronger nominee in the fall because of her work," he said.

Then as Edwards sat on stage and watched, Obama gave one of his most animated addresses in days, much of it devoted to fighting poverty. In America, he said, "you should never be homeless, you should never be hungry."

Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement: "We respect John Edwards, but as the voters of West Virginia showed last night, this thing is far from over."

Political strategist and Clinton ally James Carville said Edwards' endorsement was a psychological boost for Obama, but unlikely to sway many voters.

"I think it certainly helps in terms of the psychology of the superdelegates," Carville told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday, referring to the elected officials and party leaders who will ultimately determine the Democratic nominee.

``This is one of those endorsements that really matters,'' said Stephanie Cutter, an unaligned Democratic strategist who worked on Senator John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. ``Not only does his message represent those blue-collar workers that will be critical'' in the general election, she said, ``but its another sign that the primary race is coming to an end.''

[© 2008 The Associated Press]

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