Edwards Announces His Choice: Obama
By Peter Slevin
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- To thunderous applause, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards endorsed Sen. Barack Obama tonight, calling him a leader who can unite the country, end the Iraq war and restore a sense of fairness to the economy.
"The reason I am here tonight," Edwards declared, "is the voters have made their choice and so have I."
Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2004, had been heavily courted by Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton since he quit the race in February. His decision to climb off the fence with just five contests remaining is likely to yield limited benefits at the polls, but it sends a strong signal to Clinton that party leaders are uniting behind Obama.
In a spirited speech that sounded in parts like a eulogy for Clinton's candidacy, Edwards praised Clinton's tenacity and said she is "made of steel." But he emphasized that the Democrats must get behind Obama.
"When this nomination battle is over, and it will be over soon, brothers and sisters," Edwards said, "we must come together as Democrats and in the fall stand up for what matters in America and make America what it needs to be."
Friends said Edwards told Obama of his decision on Tuesday night, as Clinton was thumping Obama by 41 points in the West Virginia primary, propelled by the kind of white working class voters at the heart of Edwards's candidacy. Indeed, he received seven percent of the West Virginia vote.
The endorsement came on a day when Obama intensified his efforts to connect with such voters, who are considered essential to his chances against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) , the presumptive Republican nominee. A majority of West Virginia voters said Obama does not share their values.
Clinton, who has vowed to continue her fight through the final June 3 primaries in Montana and South Dakota, struck a more conciliatory tone during a round of interviews following her 67 to 26 percent thumping of Obama in West Virginia.
Voters who cast ballots for one of the two Democrats, she said, have far more in common than they do with Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.
"I'm going to work my heart out for whoever our nominee is," Clinton told CNN. "Obviously, I'm still hoping to be that nominee, but I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that anyone who supported me ... understands what a grave error it would be not to vote for Sen. Obama."
When word of the Edwards endorsement broke, however, Clinton campaign manager Terry McAuliffe sounded a very different note.
"We respect John Edwards," McAuliffe said in a statement issued by the campaign, "but as the voters of West Virginia showed last night, this thing is far from over."
Edwards was the third of Obama's rivals to endorse him, following Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
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