Edwards Says Sayonara

So much for all the talk of playing kingmaker at a brokered convention.

According to CNN, the former North Carolina senator has told his top advisers of his decision to withdraw from the Democratic race and is expected to announce in New Orleans at 1:00 p.m. It's a fitting backdrop considering that Edwards formally launchedhis bid in the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward a little over a year ago, on Dec. 28, 2006. Yesterday, the Edwards press shop sent out a release touting the appearance as a major address on poverty, and it's likely that Edwards will keep the focus squarely on what he has called his "life's work."

Here's my colleague Howard Fineman on the decision: "I'm told that Edwards's decision was very closely held, meaning he and his wife alone knew the score. As of Tuesday morning, he still had an ambitious schedule planned in the Super Tuesday states. But Tuesday afternoon he notified his staff that he wanted to go to New Orleans instead. Everyone knew what that meant. That devastated city was where Edwards had begun his campaign in the name of the poor and forgotten. Now he would return to say that his campaign had failed, but that the cause lived on."

Expect a lot of chatter today about which rival--Clinton or Obama--Edwards supporters will choose. It's tough to game out. On one hand, it seems obvious that many will flock to Obama, the other "change" candidate railing against lobbyists and "Washington-style" politics; on the other, Edwards attracted strong support from downscale, working-class voters, and they tend to prefer Clinton to Obama. I'm not sure anyone will know until the returns come in on Feb. 5.

Either way, huge news. Edwards consistently won 15 percent of the electorate--a swath of support large enough to seriously alter the calculus of Super Tuesday, which has to be a consideration given the timing. And an endorsement--one can only imagine Obama--would amplify their impact. According to Fineman, Edwards' "representatives had been reaching out to Obama's high command for weeks, but I am told that they rebuffed him. A top aide to Edwards cautioned not to assume that Edwards would endorse Obama. 'He's gained a lot of respect for Hillary, for her toughness in all that she has been through.' That could just be a negotiating ploy on Edwards's part." Indeed.

Conveniently, Obama just told ABCthat "he has let former Sen. John Edwards know that he would like his endorsement should Edwards decide to drop out of the race." 

Stay tuned. 

UPDATE, 10:54 a.m.: A reader asks if there's been "any mention of Elizabeth's health." No idea, but I was wondering the same thing. As far as I could tell, she didn't do any stumping during the closing days in South Carolina, leaving most of the family surrogate work to daughter Cate and parents-in-law Wallace and Bobbie. It was unusual--she was all over Iowa and New Hampshire--and I noted her absence at the time. Here's hoping all is well. 

UPDATE, 11:06 a.m.: Obama beats Clinton to the punch on praising Edwards. "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," he says in a statement. "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." Clinton's only email since news broke of Edwards' withdrawal? "Victory in Florida."

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