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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

Vanquished Edwards wins place as party star

BY MAEVE RESTON
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

LOS ANGELES - As the polls closed in the 10 Super Tuesday states yesterday, it s all but official: Democrats have settled on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to challenge President Bush.

But as the Democrats moved into the general election phase of the campaign, perhaps the most interesting question for the party was the future of its newest star - the engaging, silver-tongued trial lawyer and one-term senator from North Carolina who failed to halt Senator Kerry s rise.

Though Senator Edwards had pledged to continue campaigning through the March 9 primary states of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas - regardless of the results - it was clear last night that the task of competing with Mr. Kerry s trove of delegates was too much. Senator Edwards planned to officially drop out of the race in an afternoon announcement today in Raleigh, N.C.

In the end, despite a strong showing in states including Iowa, South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, the difficulty of competing against the front-runner in a deliberately front-loaded nomination process was too great.

Even Mr. Edwards detractors conceded yesterday that his trajectory has been a remarkable one. His initial announcement that he would run for the presidency piqued the interest of both parties and for a short while pundits bantered about whether he could be the most formidable Democratic challenger to Mr. Bush. But as the race began to gain steam last summer, Mr. Edwards faded to the position of long-shot candidate.

The Edwards campaign s fortune changed in early January when the bickering between Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean had frayed the nerves of Iowa voters and the state s main newspaper, the Des Moines Register, endorsed Mr. Edwards.

Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry began surging in the polls, and they shocked the political establishment by winning first and second place in the Iowa caucuses.

In the contests that followed, Mr. Edwards won only South Carolina where he was born, but he consistently exceeded expectations and his campaign rolled on.

On the night of Wisconsin s primary on Feb. 17, Mr. Edwards claimed the state s voters had sent a message (implicitly to Mr. Kerry) that “objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear,” but he faced the daunting task and exorbitant expense of trying to catch up with Mr. Kerry in the far-flung Super Tuesday states in just two weeks.

Of course, if Mr. Bush is re-elected in November, there is the possibility that a losing 2004 campaign might have improved Mr. Edwards chances of winning the prize he so desperately wanted. He might just have to wait until 2008.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Maeve Reston is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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