Edwards endorses Obama

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards will endorse Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday at a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, according to Obama's campaign.

Edwards dropped out of the Democratic race on January 30 after poor showings in the early contests.

He told NBC last week that Obama, the Democratic front-runner, is the party's likely nominee. Both Obama and the his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, had sought Edwards' blessing.

Clinton campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday that "we respect John Edwards, but as the voters of West Virginia showed last night, this thing is far from over."

According to CNN's latest estimates, Obama has 1,884 total delegates (pledged: 1,600, superdelegates: 284). Clinton has 1,718 total delegates (pledged: 1,445, superdelegates: 273).

Edwards, meanwhile, has 19 total pledged delegates who may or may not pledge their support for Obama at the Democratic National Committee's August convention in Denver, Colorado.

Edwards, who is not a superdelegate, said last week that it was "fine" for Clinton to continue making her case but expressed concern that a continued campaign could damage the party's prospects in November.

Wednesday's endorsement could help Obama reach out to white blue-collar voters, a demographic that Obama has failed to capture, most notably in the recent Pennsylvania and West Virginia primaries.

Edwards had campaigned on the message that he was standing up for the little guy, the people who are not traditionally given a voice in Washington, and that he would do more to fight special interests.

After dropping out of the race, Edwards asked both Clinton and Obama to make poverty a central issue in the general election and a future Democratic administration, something both agreed to do. Watch Edwards discuss Obama and Clinton on "Larry King Live" »

An endorsement from Edwards, who ran as vice president on Sen. John Kerry's ticket in the 2004 presidential election, would have a significant impact on the race, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn said after Edwards dropped out.

"You could make an argument that the change issue does benefit Barack Obama, that he picks up that support. You could also make the argument that there's a lot of support out there amongst people that will go to Hillary," he said. "The big issue here is who will he endorse."

Some political pundits predicted that Edwards' supporters are more likely to lean in Obama's direction.

"The conventional wisdom is that Barack Obama will pick up maybe 60 percent of them, and in some places, that makes a huge difference," former presidential adviser David Gergen said in January.

Time magazine's Joe Klein contends that Clinton "represents a lot of the things that [Edwards] campaigned against, you know, the old Washington Democratic establishment that he believes got too close to the corporations in the '90s."

Edwards announced that he was dropping out in New Orleans, Louisiana, the same city where he declared his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential race.

"It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," he said.

With his wife, Elizabeth, and children at his side, Edwards said he couldn't predict "who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," but he said it would be a Democrat.

Edwards trailed Clinton and Obama in the early contests, including a third-place finish in Florida's primary with 14 percent of the votes. He also came in third in key races in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Klein said Edwards played a positive role in spurring his competitors during the early part of the campaign.

"On a lot of substantive issues like health insurance, he was the first one out of the box with a very ambitious universal plan, and I think he forced the others to become bolder in a lot of their policy prescriptions, energy dependence and so on," Klein said.

John Edwards is a South Carolina native with an undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University and law degree from the University of North Carolina.

Before entering politics, winning a Senate seat from North Carolina in 1998, Edwards was a lawyer representing families "being victimized by powerful interests," according to his campaign Web site.

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