GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards gave his long-sought endorsement to Sen. Barack Obama Wednesday night, calling on Democrats to unite behind him and turn their attention to the fall campaign.
“The reason I am here tonight,” Edwards declared, “is the voters have made their choice, and so have I.”
Edwards had been heavily courted by Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton since he quit the race three months ago. His decision to climb off the fence with just five contests remaining is likely to yield limited benefits, but it sends a strong signal that Edwards, at least, thinks the nomination battle is over.
Appearing with Obama at a rally here, the former senator from North Carolina and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee gave what sounded in places like a eulogy for Clinton’s candidacy, praising her tenacity and describing her as “made of steel.” But he emphasized that the party must now get behind Obama.
Friends said Edwards told Obama of his decision on Tuesday night, as Clinton was thumping Obama by 41 points in the West Virginia primary and winning the overwhelming support of white working-class voters at the heart of Edwards’ candidacy.
Obama was in Michigan in an effort to connect with voters who are considered essential to his chances against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican nominee. A majority of West Virginia voters said Obama does not share their values.
Clinton, who has vowed to continue her fight through the final June 3 primaries, in Montana and South Dakota, struck a conciliatory tone during a round of interviews following her victory in West Virginia.
Those who voted for either of the Democrats, she said, have far more in common than they do with McCain.
“I’m going to work my heart out for whoever our nominee is,” Clinton told CNN. “Obviously, I’m still hoping to be that nominee, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that anyone who supported me … understands what a grave error it would be not to vote for Senator Obama.”
When word of the Edwards endorsement leaked out, however, Clinton campaign manager Terry McAuliffe sounded a very different note. “We respect John Edwards,” he said in a statement issued by the campaign, “but as the voters of West Virginia showed last night, this thing is far from over.”
Electoral math suggested otherwise, and Obama picked up 4.5 more superdelegates on Wednesday. With an insurmountable lead among pledged delegates and a growing edge among the appointed delegates, Obama has made Clinton’s path to the nomination nearly invisible.
Obama picked up the endorsement of a leading abortion-rights group that is part of a key party constituency. The endorsement by the political action committee of NARAL Pro-Choice America provoked an outcry on NARAL’s blog and a statement of displeasure with the organization’s timing from the president of the Democratic women’s political action committee EMILY’s List, which supports Clinton.