- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

ATLANTA (AP) — Sen. John Edwards, whose Southern charm and oratorical flare transformed the Democratic presidential contest, gave in to the inevitable math of the primary contest yesterday, bowing out with the same unbridled optimism that characterized his candidacy.

Mr. Edwards failed to win any races other than his native South Carolina, but he managed to come from the backfield in a once-crowded Democratic race with a string of strong second-place finishes to be the last major challenger to Sen. John Kerry.

Mr. Edwards congratulated the Massachusetts senator in a speech to supporters, signaling that Democrats would present a united front against President Bush in the fall. He called Mr. Kerry an “extraordinary advocate for jobs, better health care, a safer world.”

“These are the causes of our party, these are the causes of our country, and these are the causes we will prevail on come November,” said Mr. Edwards of North Carolina.

He credited Mr. Kerry with running “a strong, powerful campaign.”

Mr. Kerry, in turn, credited Mr. Edwards for bringing “a compelling voice to our party, great eloquence … and great promise for leadership for the years to come.”

Mr. Edwards appealed to independents and other potential swing voters who could be instrumental in a close contest in the fall. Although he made millions as a plaintiff’s trail lawyer before running for the Senate for the first time in 1998, Mr. Edwards emphasized his humble origins as the son of a textile mill worker who had lost his job when his factory closed.

That, and his ability to clearly lay out issues, enabled Mr. Edwards to connect easily with most audiences. His campaign pitch that there are two Americas — one for the rich and powerful and one for everybody else — resonated with audiences.

Several Democrats said Mr. Edwards’ campaign skills and performance should earn him consideration as Mr. Kerry’s vice presidential running mate.

Mr. Edwards did not specifically address his status in last night’s speech to supporters, but left no doubt that he was dropping out. He said the themes he touched in his campaign were “the issues that the American people care deeply about.”

His youthful appearance suggested to critics that he might not be ready for national politics and international leadership. Even to many admirers, he was a promising running mate rather than the nominee.

Yet his broad smile, Southern charm and message helped gain support for a campaign that generally stayed away from attacking other Democrats, except to say their experience in Washington was a detriment.

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