GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It would have meant more in February or March, but John Edwards' endorsement of Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination was welcomed nonetheless by a politician eager to turn the page.
Edwards' surprise appearance at a rally Wednesday steered some of the attention away from Hillary Rodham Clinton's landslide win over Obama in Tuesday's West Virginia primary. Despite the victory, the former first lady faces long odds in trying to deny Obama the presidential nomination.
Edwards had been their chief rival from 2007 through last January. But after finishing second to Obama in Iowa, the former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee placed third in the next three contests, then left the race.
Obama and Clinton immediately sought his support, but Edwards stayed mum until Wednesday. The endorsement would have carried more clout had Edwards made it months ago, when the outcome of the Democratic contest was very much in doubt.
"We are here tonight because the Democratic voters have made their choice, and so have I," Edwards said to thunderous applause. He said Obama "stands with me" in a fight to cut poverty in half within 10 years, a claim Obama confirmed moments later.
Praise for Clinton
Edwards told the rally that "we must come together as Democrats" to defeat Republican John McCain in November.
He also praised Clinton.
"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," he said.
Video: What’s the impact of Edwards’ nod? Then as Edwards sat on stage and watched, Obama gave one of his most animated addresses in days, much of it devoted to fighting poverty. In America, he said, "you should never be homeless, you should never be hungry."
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."
Political strategist and Clinton ally James Carville said Edwards' endorse was a psychological boost for Obama, but unlikely to sway many voters.
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Aiming to unify party
"I think it certainly helps in terms of the psychology of the superdelegates," Carville told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday, referring to the elected officials and party leaders who will ultimately determine the Democratic nominee.
A person close to Edwards, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he wanted to get involved now to begin unifying the party. Edwards and Obama spoke by phone Tuesday night, and Edwards agreed to fly to Grand Rapids the next day.
Edwards didn't even tell many of his former top advisers of his decision because he wanted to inform Clinton personally, said the person close to him. His wife, Elizabeth, who has said she thinks Clinton has the superior health care plan, did not accompany him and is not part of the endorsement.
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