As expected, Florida became the equalizer Tuesday night, signaling the end of campaign bids by former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Edwards suspended his campaign just after 1 p.m. on Wednesday (January 30) in New Orleans, where he began his second run for the presidency back in December 2006. Giuliani announced he was throwing in the towel around 6 p.m. and endorsed Republican front-runner Senator John McCain.
"It's time for me to step aside, so that history can blaze its path," Edwards said in New Orleans. "We must do better if we want to live up to the promise of this country we love so much." The former senator has not yet endorsed another candidate.
The Democratic Party, he added, "will be strong, unified, and ... will take back the White House in November. I have spoken to both [Obama and Clinton], and they both pledged to me, and through me, to America, that they will make ending poverty central to their campaigns and ... presidencies. This son of a mill worker will be just fine."
With McCain at his side, Giuliani admitted defeat later Wednesday in California, praising McCain as a true "American hero." GOP candidates were slated to debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Wednesday night.
"When you run for president of the United States, you spend a lot of time thinking about the qualities you want in the chief executive of the United States — someone who can be trusted in times of crisis, someone with a clear vision of the challenges facing this nation. Obviously, I thought I was that person. The voters made a different choice. I made it clear at different times of this campaign, that if I decided not to run, the one person I clearly would have supported for president is John McCain."
The end of the line for Edwards, who ran alongside Senator John Kerry in their failed 2004 bid for the White House, closes the book on a campaign that sought to shine a light on the issues of poverty and health care in what the candidate often referred to as the economically divided "Two Americas." The most liberal of the major Democratic candidates, Edwards often spoke of the poverty he endured in his childhood and how his rise to the position of a multimillionaire lawyer, investor and anti-poverty activist was the perfect example of the possibilities offered by America.
Overshadowed almost from day one by the more headline-worthy tandem of Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Edwards was unable to raise as much funding as his rivals and, more recently, had to struggle to get camera time during televised debates. His platform included withdrawing American troops from Iraq, providing universal health care and eliminating poverty, as well as ambitious plans like his "College for Everyone" proposal, which he discussed during an MTV/MySpace political forum in New Hampshire last year.
Given his frequent railing against large corporations and special-interest money in politics, experts predict it is unlikely that Edwards will endorse Clinton, though CNN reported that the two met recently, possibly to discuss a vice presidential slot for Edwards, though that too seems unlikely given their differing political philosophies. Edwards managed to win 62 delegates during his run, coming in third place in New Hampshire, Michigan, Florida, South Carolina and Nevada following his surprising second-place showing in Iowa on January 3.
Though his battles to get heard above the din of the Obama-Clinton roar were difficult, Edwards faced a bigger fight early on in the campaign, when he and wife Elizabeth announced last March that her cancer had returned. Standing side by side, the couple vowed to continue campaigning despite Elizabeth's diagnosis.
Both Obama and Clinton issued statements Wednesday morning praising Edwards. "John Edwards has spent a lifetime fighting to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the struggling, even when it wasn't popular to do or covered in the news," Obama wrote. "At a time when our politics is too focused on who's up and who's down, he made a nation focus again on who matters — the New Orleans child without a home, the West Virginia miner without a job, the families who live in that other America that is not seen or heard or talked about by our leaders in Washington. John and Elizabeth Edwards have always believed deeply that we can change this — that two Americans can become one, and that our country can rally around this common purpose. So while his campaign may end today, the cause of their lives endures for all of us who still believe that we can achieve that dream of one America."
Clinton's statement read, "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. John ran with compassion and conviction and lifted this campaign with his deep concern for the daily lives of the American people. That is what this election is about — it's about our people. And John is one of the greatest champions the American people could ask for. I wish John and Elizabeth all the best. They have my great personal respect and gratitude. And I know they will continue to fight passionately for the country and the people they love so deeply."
According to a recent Associated Press/Yahoo poll, four of 10 Edwards supporters preferred Clinton as their next favorite candidate, with a quarter saying Obama would be their second choice.
As for Giuliani, his resounding defeat in Florida on Tuesday night brought an end to a campaign that featured one of the most disastrous gambles in modern political history. By focusing almost exclusively on Florida and largely ignoring the early primaries and caucuses, Giuliani fell so far behind the Republican field that even a win in Florida — where he was leading by double digits as recently as last month — might not have saved his floundering campaign.
[This story was originally published at 11:12 a.m. ET on 01.30.08]