WASHINGTON – John Edwards bowed out of his second presidential bid saying he hoped the “two Americas” he speaks of so often, one for the haves and the other for the have-nots, could finally be united under a Democratic president.It won’t be him.
“It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path,” the former North Carolina senator said as he ended his candidacy Wednesday where it began 13 months earlier, in a hurricane-damaged New Orleans neighborhood.
For Edwards, the quest has been one of seeming contradictions and compelling personal drama.
John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, Edwards earned millions as a trial lawyer, lives in a 28,000-square-foot house and is known for famously expensive haircuts. He did consulting work for a hedge fund that caters to the super rich to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty – and to make money too.
Yet Edwards focused his candidacy on ending poverty and economic inequality.
“It is the cause of my life,” he said Wednesday, saying he had won assurances from the remaining two Democratic candidates – Senators. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama – that they shared his dream of “one America that works for everybody.”
Edwards’ story is also one of family challenges.
Until now, he had pressed on with his campaign despite the return of his wife Elizabeth’s breast cancer. In 1996, their first-born son, Wade, 16, died when his Jeep rolled over in a high wind. “We’ve been through the worst a couple can go through,” John Edwards later said.
Elizabeth Edwards and the couple’s three children – Cate, Emma Claire and Jack – joined him for his New Orleans farewell speech.
He failed to win any of the early Democratic contests. While he captured second place in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, narrowly pushing Clinton into third place, it turned out to be his high-water mark. His biggest disappointment came on Saturday, when he finished a distant third in his native South Carolina, whose primary he won in 2004.
Johnny Reid Edwards – the name on his birth certificate – has lived on both sides of the economic divide.
He was born in Seneca, S.C., to parents who worked in a textile mill. He spent most of his youth in rural North Carolina, working for a while in a mill with his father. He was the first member of his family to attend college, graduating from North Carolina State University and then earning a law degree at the University of North Carolina.
As an attorney in Raleigh, N.C., he specialized in representing poor and middle-class families against large corporations, winning millions of dollars in judgments in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, including $25 million for a young girl horribly injured by a defective swimming pool drain.
He won election to the Senate in 1998 with a victory over incumbent Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth. Within months of his election, Edwards put his courtroom experience to work in helping senior Senate Democrats to map backroom defense strategy during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Since 2004, Edwards has worked at the One America Committee, a political action committee he set up in 2001, and as director of an anti-poverty center at the University of North Carolina.