On John Edwards Dropping Out

Before John Edwards said a single word in New Orleans about ending his bid for the presidency, before he set foot in an abandoned neighborhood in the lower Ninth Ward to talk about poverty, the same place he'd announced his candidacy 13 months before, the pundits were already deliciously speculating about two things: how would this dramatic development affect the bitter contest between Barack and Hillary, and where would Edwards' passionate supporters go now that their candidate was out? Would liberals flock to the more "changey" message of Obama? Would his white male base bolt for the less touchy feely Hillary?

And, most importantly, who would Edwards throw his endorsement to?

"Everyone is sitting here with a call list of people in the Edwards campaign," noted one Democratic strategist. "I'm sure that's what's going on right now across these two campaigns."

Watching this on MSNBC I had to laugh. Any reporter who thinks he or she knows anything about what the candidates will do at any given minute, much less tomorrow or next week, is seriously deluded. Or arrogant. Didn't they learn anything from Obama's seemingly implausible win in Iowa? Hillary's teary moment in New Hampshire? Or her stunning visit to Florida this week to praise voters for her so-called "victory"? This is precisely what makes national politics so maddening and entertaining, the unpredictability.

Take me, for instance. Tomorrow I was all set to spend time with Edwards in LA before the debate. It was on the calendar. As of yesterday morning, his communications director emailed to apologize for not getting back to me about the details. But we were still on. There wasn't a hint Edwards was going to bail. Even as Edwards was canceling campaign stops in North Dakota for a mysterious trip to New Orleans, some of his closest aides were still acting as if he was in the race. We're going all the way.

It must have been a tortured decision for Edwards, is all I can say. The crippling loss in South Carolina. Then the calls to Obama and Hillary.

And now it's over, his five-year quest for the presidency. "It's time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," Edwards told a small crowd in New Orleans, as Elizabeth Edwards and their three children stood beside him.

What I can't really say is this: why his campaign never took off. Why, despite his insistent message about the plight of the poor and the middle-class, his landmark health-care plan, his vow to end the war in Iraq, his railing against corporate greed, he couldn't generate much heat. Was the national giddiness over a first black or a first woman president too much to overcome for a white guy from the South? Was it the obsessive narrative about the $400 hair cut, the sprawling mansion and the hedge fund that did him in? Was there too much John Kerry baggage? Or maybe--and this comes from the ever-delightful Chris Matthews--Edwards was just too "glamorous"?

Whatever the reasons, the media can finally return to what it longed to do all along with the Democrats: focus on Obama and Hillary in their increasingly nasty battle for the nomination.

It's going to be a long, long season.

Both did pledge to Edwards to continue to carry his message of poverty and fight the good fight. I wouldn't hold my breath. It's hard to imagine either candidate stopping to talk to homeless people camped near a bridge, as Edwards did in New Orleans on his way to give his speech. Or picking up a hammer to go off and build houses for Habitat for Humanity, which Edwards and his family did right after his poignant speech.

In a campaign that was often too short on substance and too much about glitz, I will miss his voice.

"Today I am suspending my campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency," Edwards told the crowd in New Orleans toward the end of his speech. And then he made a little joke. "But I want to say this to everyone...This son of a mill worker is going to be just fine. Our job, for now, is to make sure America's going to be fine."