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Obama-Backing Edwards Elbows Aside Clinton

by John Nichols

It was a weary and wistful Hillary Clinton who sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and other network anchors for extended interviews in the middle of the day Wednesday. She knew that, no matter what she said, and how well she said it, it would not be enough.

Like the coronation march that her 2008 campaign was supposed to be, her latest gambit would be trumped by Barack Obama's juggernaut.

Yes, she had just been handed a face-saving landslide win by West Virginia Democrats, beating Obama by more than 2-1 in an honest-to-goodness swing state. But Clinton did not seem to be fighting very hard on a day when her senior campaign adviser, Harold Ickes, was disptached to Capitol Hill to reassure congressional supporter that the former frontrunner would remain in the race through June 3.

Clinton used her precious spotlight time to defend Obama as a friend of Israel, describe his supporters as people who thought he would be the best president and promised to "work my heart out for whoever our nominee is." Indeed, if she made news Wednesday, it was with a seeming show of openness to an as-yet-unoffered place on an Obama-led ticket. Clinton did not dismiss the vice-presidential talk - and she certainly did not resort to the old dig of suggesting she might have a place on her ticket for the senator from Illinois - she simply it was "premature" to talk about what she would be doing after her campaign was done.

Perhaps it was. But only by a few hours.

As Clinton's interviews were supposed to be dominating the evening news and talk programs on the cable networks, Barack Obama was again stepping on her moment.

Television screens filled with live images from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Bruce Springsteen was singing "The Rising."

The crowd was cheering, "Yes we can!"

No one was thinking about West Virginia.

No one was thinking much about Hillary Clinton.

They were listening to John Edwards.

"The reason I am here in Grand Rapids tonight is that Democratic voters in America have made their choice and so have I," shouted the man who almost beat Barack Obama in the campaign-opening caucuses of Iowa and who, long after he quit campaigning, still pulled 7 percent of the vote in West Virginia.

Echoing the themes of a campaign that did not win him the nomination but that secured him a credibility - especially with the blue-collar voters who may well define the fall race - that made his the most sought-after endorsement of a campaign that is now done in all but the formalities.

Delivering that endorsement, and a dose of the populist appeal Obama still needs, Edwards came not to finish the primary race but to open the fall campaign. "There is one man who knows in his heart that it is time to create one America, not two, and that man is Barack Obama," shouted Edwards.

Edwards stood next to Obama Wednesday night, basking in the applause of thousands of Michigan Democrats who were, for all practical purposes, cheering the end of the Clinton campaign. (And reminding the pundits that a Michigan delegation will be seated at the Democratic National Convention and will likely join in the "by-acclamation" nomination of Obama.)

Of course, John Edwards praised Hillary Clinton in Grand Rapids. "We are a stronger party because Hillary Clinton is a Democrat," the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president told a crowd that did not really want to hear it but offered a reasonable measure of tepid applause.

"What she has shown is strength and character... She cares deeply about the working families in this country," said Edwards. "She is a woman who in my judgment is made of steel. And she is a leader in this country not because of her husband but because of what she has done..."

But the truth is that Edwards was in Michigan to bury Hillary Clinton, at least as a presidential candidate.

"When this nomination battle is over, and it will be over soon, brothers and sisters, we will have a united Democratic party," Edwards declared.

The Edwards endorsement, delivered not in an upcoming primary state such as Kentucky or Oregon but in the contested former-primary state of Michigan, was not a primary endorsement. It was a positioning moment for a November race in which everyone - including the savvy senator from New York - knows that Barack Obama will be carrying the Democratic banner into competition with Republican John McCain.

"I will do whatever it takes" to elect the Democrat, said Clinton. Would Clinton like to be on that ticket? Probably.

Might she have some new competition? Absolutely.

No one missed the fact that Barack Obama and John Edwards looked right together. "They looked fantastic together," gushed Jill Zuckman, the Chicago Tribune's able political writer. "They looked like a ticket."

Even Obama seemed to notice.

"I haven't been seeing John as much," said the Illinois senator. "I forgot how good he is."

The soon-to-be nominee won't forget again.

Neither will Hillary Clinton.

Click here for a video of Edwards' speech.

John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

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