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Published: Thursday, 5/15/2008

Edwards throws support to Obama


The announcement came in Michigan, a crucial state for votes

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Democrat John Edwards endorsed former rival Barack Obama yesterday, a move designed to help solidify support for the party's likely presidential nominee even as Hillary Clinton refuses to give up her long-shot candidacy.

The surprise endorsement came a day after Mrs. Clinton defeated Mr. Obama by more than 2-1 in the West Virginia primary, and it helped the Obama campaign steer much of the evening news coverage away from a painful subject. The West Virginia outcome highlighted Mr. Obama's challenge in winning over "Hillary Democrats" - white, working-class voters who also supported Mr. Edwards in significant numbers before he exited the race in late January.

Mr. Edwards made the carefully timed announcement at an Obama rally here, as the Illinois senator campaigned in a crucial general election battleground state.

Mr. Edwards, who received a thunderous ovation when Mr. Obama introduced him to the crowd of several thousand, said, "brothers and sisters, we must come together as Democrats" to defeat Republican Sen. John McCain. "We are here tonight because the Democratic voters have made their choice, and so have I."

He said Mr. Obama "stands with me" in a fight to cut poverty in half within 10 years, a claim Mr. Obama confirmed moments later.

Mr. Edwards also praised Mrs. Clinton, saying "we are a stronger party" because of her involvement, and "we're going to have a stronger nominee in the fall because of her work."

Speaking after Mr. Edwards in the packed Van Andel Arena, Mr. Obama gave one of his most animated addresses in days, much of it devoted to his guest's favorite topic, fighting poverty. In America, he said, "you should never be homeless, you should never be hungry."

As president, he vowed to "lift up every American out of poverty."

Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement, "We respect John Edwards, but as the voters of West Virginia showed last night, this thing is far from over."

Mr. Edwards, a former North Carolina senator and the 2004 vice presidential nominee, finished second to Mr. Obama in the Iowa caucus in early January before coming in third in the following three contests. He dropped out in New Orleans, the location a reminder of his attention to poverty.

Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton immediately asked Mr. Edwards for his endorsement, but he stayed mum for more than four months.

A person close to Mr. Edwards, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he wanted to get involved now to begin unifying the party.

The two men spoke by phone Tuesday night, and Mr. Edwards agreed to fly to Grand Rapids the next day.

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