Edwards: 'It's Time For Me To Step Aside'

Former senator drops out of '08 race, and urges rivals to take up his cause.

ByABC News
January 30, 2008, 9:21 AM

Jan. 30, 2008 — -- Former Senator John Edwards, D-N.C., surrounded by his wife Elizabeth and his children, announced Wednesday his presidential bid has come to an end.

"It's time for me to step aside so that history can blaze it's path," Edwards said, making his announcement against the backdrop of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans on the site of a Habitat for Humanity home-building project.

"I began my presidential campaign here to remind the country that we, as citizens, and as a government have a moral responsibility to each other," he said. "We must do better if we want to live up to the great promise of this country that we all love so much."

Edwards said he has spoken to both of his Democratic rivals, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

"They have both pledged to me, and more importantly through me to America, that they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency," he said.

"This is the cause of my life. I now have their commitment to engage in this cause," Edwards said.

Following his announcement, Edwards told ABC News' David Muir that that he was willing to continue a dialogue with Clinton and Obama about what they plan to do going forward in their campaigns. He would not say which candidate he would endorse, if any.

Elizabeth Edwards said she was not surprised the other candidates wanted Edwards' support, but noted that the person he would most likely be supporting in the coming days, was her.

Edwards, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2004 before joining Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., as his vice presidential candidate, had placed poorly in several early contests, lagging behind rivals Clinton and Obama.

"It just became clear it wasn't going to happen," a senior Edwards adviser tells ABC News' Rick Klein.

The former senator ended his bid during a speech on poverty in New Orleans, where he began his White House campaign in December 2006. His family including wife Elizabeth, who is battling a recurrence of cancer and has been absent from the campaign trail since New Hampshire was standing behind him.

Edwards campaign advisers told ABC News early on that he would not endorse anyone today.

Senator Hillary Clinton said today she's not seeking Edwards' endorsement but she'd be glad to have his supporters.

"I have not because I think this up to Senator Edwards," she said of a potential endorsement, reports ABC News' Kate Snow.

Speaking to reporters following an event in Little Rock, Arkansas, Clinton said she wanted to express her "appreciation and admiration" Edwards.

"I want to wish John and Elizabeth well and thank him for running a great campaign and it was really important to millions and millions of American," she said.

During a rally with supporters in Denver, Colorado today, Obama thanked Edwards and his wife Elizabeth for their campaign message.

"John and Elizabeth Edwards believe that the two Americans can become one," Obama said. He said their campaign may be over but said their campaign message will not be forgotten.

ABC News reported Edwards spoke to both Clinton and Obama yesterday to tell them he was considering dropping out of the race. He asked both of them to commit to making poverty a central issue in their campaigns and in their potential White House administrations.

Obama told ABC's Terry Moran on Tuesday that he asked Edwards to endorse him, in a private conversation.

"There is no doubt that I would love John's support, but I also respect the fact that he is in this contest," Obama said in a "Nightline" interview that aired Tuesday night, with Obama praising Edwards as a "formidable candidate."

Edwards has been fighting a cold for the last couple of days, but he was in a great mood last night, joking with reporters as usual on his campaign plane.

ABC News has learned that Edwards made the decision to bow out in the last two days. Telling signs that he was dropping out included his canceled scheduled campaign stops in the Feb. 5 states of Alabama and North Dakota.

Instead, the Edwards campaign announced yesterday he was going to New Orleans to make a "major poverty address." Edwards was also scheduled to go on the air yesterday in several Feb. 5 states with television ad that had been delivered to local television affiliates -- but the ads did not go up as scheduled.

Edwards fought an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination, with a campaign focused on fighting poverty, uplifting the working middle class and guaranteeing universal health care for all Americans.

After placing behind Obama and Clinton in contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and his home state of South Carolina, Edwards was forced to mount a defense for continuing his campaign.

"I am in this through the convention and the White House," said Edwards in a recent interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Those words became a standard line of defense.

Wednesday's announcement ends speculation that Edwards was aiming to be a kingmaker at the party's national convention by collecting a significant amount of delegates and then swinging those delegates to either Clinton or Obama.

What Edwards lacked in votes, he made up for in compassion. His populist message played well with working middle class families. He often touted himself as the candidate from rural America who inherently best understood issues facing a broad swath of voters.

His campaign almost came to a screeching halt last March, when it was revealed that his wife Elizabeth had suffered a recurrence of cancer. Together the couple vowed to continue the campaign.