January 30, 2008 / 6:34 PM / 13 years ago

Democrat John Edwards quits presidential race

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - John Edwards, whose bid for the Democratic presidential nomination focused on helping working class Americans, withdrew from the race on Wednesday without endorsing either of his rivals.

“It’s time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path,” Edwards told about 250 supporters gathered in the Upper Ninth Ward which was heavily flooded when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

Edwards’ second presidential bid failed to match his first four years ago when he did well enough to be offered his party’s vice presidential nomination. This time, he failed to win a single state.

“We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history,” said Edwards, predicting that the eventual Democratic nominee would win the November election at the head of a united party.

Edwards, 54, found himself unable to match the star power and fund-raising ability of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He edged Clinton for second place behind Obama in Iowa but has finished a distant third in all subsequent state contests.

The millionaire lawyer and former North Carolina senator returned to New Orleans to make his withdrawal announcement in the same place where he began his campaign.

He did not endorse anyone during his speech.

The decision to pull out came shortly after Edwards, who served one term in the Senate, lost to Obama and Clinton in his native South Carolina — the only state he won in 2004.

Edwards spoke to Clinton and Obama about his decision to pull out and said they each promised to make sure poverty issues continue to be discussed in the campaign.

Obama praised Edwards for spending a “lifetime fighting to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the struggling, even when it wasn’t popular to do or covered in the news.”

“He made a nation focus again on who matters — 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,” Obama said in a statement.

Clinton praised Edwards for focusing his campaign on people who are “too often left behind.”

“John ran with compassion and conviction and lifted this campaign with his deep concern for the daily lives of American people,” she said in a statement.

One source close to Edwards said he was not dropping out because of his wife’s health. Elizabeth Edwards, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just after the 2004 election, announced last year her cancer had returned and was incurable.

The son of a millworker, Edwards often referred to his humble roots in a message that focused on fighting poverty, giving health care coverage to all Americans and reducing corporate influence in Washington.

Editing by Alan Elsner; additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Denver

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