WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) -- Presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards announced Wednesday he was dropping his bid for the Democratic nomination but vowed to fight with presumptive nominee John Kerry to defeat President George W. Bush.
"Man, it's good to be home!" the ever charismatic Edwards told supporters gathered at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C. to raucous cheers.
Edwards thanked supporters, staff members, family and friends for their work on the campaign, telling them it was an honor to work with them "because from the beginning this has never been my campaign. This has been your campaign, and I am blessed to have been a part of it."
Edwards' announcement seemed inevitable as returns rolled in Tuesday from the 10 contests to decide the Democratic nomination showing a near total victory for front-runner Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Edwards failed to win a single state on Super Tuesday, although he lost by a tight margin in Georgia. Meanwhile, Kerry's victory in nine of the 10 contests -- giving him 27 of the 30 races overall -- brought his total number of national convention delegates to 1,541, about 70 percent of the number needed to secure the nomination.
Edwards had scored major points throughout the election with a populist message that spoke of uniting the "two Americas" -- one for the rich and one for "the rest of us." That message became a platform by which Edwards tried to differentiate himself from the admittedly high-born Bostonian Kerry, casting himself as the one candidate who could understand the common man because he is the son of a South Carolina mill worker.
"I have lived with this my entire life," Edwards told Kerry during a debate Sunday regarding the effects of job exportation. "I have seen the effect not just on the economy, but on the families who are involved when families lose jobs. ... This is something I take very seriously and very personally."
But in his concession speech Wednesday, Edwards told supporters that Kerry was the right candidate to fight for the causes they cared about.
Kerry is "somebody who has fought for and will continue to fight for the things that all of us believe in: more jobs, better healthcare, cleaner air, cleaner water, a safer world," Edwards said.
"The truth is, all these -- they are the causes of our party, the Democratic Party; they are the causes of America; and they are the reasons we will prevail come November and take back this country," he said.
"The truth of the matter," he later added, "is that John Kerry has what it takes right here to be president of the United States. And I, for one, intend to do everything in my power to make him the next president of the United States. And I ask you to join me in this cause, for our country, for our America."
Edwards had emerged as the only major contender against Kerry in recent weeks after the surprisingly close finish between the two senators in the Wisconsin primary on Feb. 17. That race, which precipitated former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's decision to drop out of the field, cemented Edwards' position as the other man in a two-man field.
Edwards originally broke into the spotlight after finishing a surprising second in the first race of the election season, the Iowa caucuses. The unexpected ascension of both Edwards and Kerry, the Iowa victor, over front-running Dean was largely attributed to both men standing above the fray of mud-slinging among Dean and fellow candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
Rumors had long swirled that Edwards may join Kerry as his vice presidential candidate, but Edwards had said repeatedly that he was in the race to become the presidential candidate. The two senators spoke on the phone Tuesday evening, CNN reported, and planned to speak again Wednesday, but the content of their conversation was not known.
At his post-returns party in Washington Tuesday night Kerry thanked Edwards, saying he had "great promise for leadership for the years to come." He also flirted with fueling speculation the two men would join forces when he declared that "with one united Democratic Party, we can and will win this election and build one America of freedom and fairness for all."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe also thanked Edwards in a statement Wednesday. "Senator Edwards brought energy and enthusiasm to the Democratic primary process and energized thousands of Democratic voters," he said, adding that Edwards' personal story "represents what's great about America: that the son of a mill worker could one day run for president of the United States."
The 50-year-old Edwards was elected to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate in 1998, before which he was a highly successful trial attorney. His wife, Elizabeth, is also an attorney, and the couple has four children, one of whom died in a car accident in 1996.