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The Nation

With a Last Call to Action, John Edwards Will Exit the Race

John Nichols

John Edwards has canceled campaign events that were scheduled for today in February 5 primary and caucus states and will instead fly to New Orleans, where his populist campaign to make poverty an issue in American politics began.

Aides say that the former senator from North Carolina will end his formal run for the Democratic presidential nomination in the impoverished city that was so battered both by Hurricane Katrina and the official neglect that came before and after that mighty storm.

Edwards did not want to abandon the presidential race. He kept up an intense schedule of events in "Super Tuesday" states even after a credible but disappointing third-place finish in his native state of South Carolina's Saturday primary.

The money was short -- too short for the media buys necessary to compete in the television "air wars" that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are preparing to reach voters in the score of states that will vote February 5. Media attention was scant, and usually focused on the question of why he was staying in the race. And even sympathetic Democrats were starting to abandon Edwards -- who never made much secret about his differences with the Clinton camp -- for a surging Obama campaign.

But Edwards pressed on.

As late as Tuesday night, when Edwards won 14 percent of the vote and carried ten counties in Florida's Democratic "beauty contest" primary, the former North Carolina senator was still on the trail. More than 1,000 union members and activists rallied for his populist call to action at a Carpenters union hall in St. Paul.

Edwards recalled the legacy of his late colleague in the Senate, Paul Wellstone. The Minnesota crowd cheered the memory of one Democrat who made fighting poverty central to his politics and the hope that another Democrat might yet carry the fight forward.

But Edwards recognized it was no longer possible to do that as a third-wheel presidential candidate.

So instead of flying from St. Paul to Fargo for a scheduled event anticipating the February 5 North Dakota caucuses, Edwards and his team turned their plane toward New Orleans.

In the city where he launched his bid for the presidency a year ago, it is expected that he will say that he is no longer a candidate. But the speech is being billed as an anti-poverty address. And Edwards aides say that that campaign will continue. The 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate will continue to seek to influence his party and his country to recognize and address the painful reality that there are "two Americas -- one rich and one poor."

It is, Edwards says, "the mission of my life."

--John Nichols

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

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