Obama Visits Michigan, Wins Edwards' Support

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Barack Obama hit the campaign trail in Michigan on Wednesday. That's where former rival John Edwards endorsed Obama for the Democratic Party's nominee. It was the Illinois senator's first campaign visit to Michigan this year. Obama didn't compete in the state's January primary that was outlawed by the National Democratic Party for violating party rules.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Just last week, John Edwards was still downplaying the value of his own endorsement.

Senator JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): I would not inflate the value of my supporting or endorsing any candidate. That's blown way, way out of proportion.

MONTAGNE: Maybe so, but John Edwards got seven percent of the vote in West Virginia's Democrat presidential primary this week, even though he's dropped out of the race. Now the former hopeful is offering more hope to a former rival. NPR's Don Gonyea has been covering the campaign of Barack Obama.

DON GONYEA: What started out as a day for Obama to court skeptical auto workers in Michigan ended with a surprise endorsement from a man much admired by that important segment of the Democratic coalition. This was Obama's first campaign visit to Michigan this year. He did not compete in the state's January primary, which was outlawed by the National Democratic Party for being held too early in violation of party rules.

After a tour of a Chrysler assembly plant and a town hall meeting in Macomb County, Obama stood before more than 12,000 people in Grand Rapids last night.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I am so grateful to all of you for taking the time to be here. I know that, you know, we didn't have a chance to campaign here during the primary. And I felt bad about it.

GONYEA: To make up for that, Obama said he had something special.

Sen. OBAMA: But I decided that I was going to bring out one of the greatest leaders we have in the Democratic Party. Please give it up for my friend John Edwards.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: The crowd exploded. Most hadn't heard the late-breaking news of the endorsement. And after a long ovation, Edwards leaned into the microphone.

Sen. EDWARDS: So the question is, what am I doing here?

GONYEA: But before Edwards got to the business at hand, he started talking about Hillary Clinton. Her name prompted audible boos from many in the crowd. Edwards pressed on, praising Clinton.

Sen. EDWARDS: This tenacity has shown her strength and determination. She is a woman who in my judgment is made of steel and she's a leader in this country not - not because of her husband, but because of what she has done.

GONYEA: It was a pitch for party unity. And, Edwards said, Barack Obama is now a stronger fall campaign candidate because of the challenge he faced from Hillary Clinton this spring. Then Edwards turned to the reasons he is supporting Obama. He reprised his own campaign stump speech in which he spoke of two Americas - one for the rich and one for the poor. He said Obama is committed to changing all that.

He did not address why his endorsement comes so late in the process. Instead he simply said that Democratic voters across America had made their choice and so has he. Edwards then concluded by borrowing words from Obama's stump speech.

Sen. EDWARDS: This is our moment. This is our time to take down these walls, to close our divide and build one America that we all believe in. If you want that, if you believe in that, then join me in helping send Barack Obama to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Since dropping out of the presidential race, Edwards has been courted by both Obama and Clinton. And it's another piece of bad news for Clinton, who could have used an Edwards endorsement as kind of a life preserver, helping to keep her campaign afloat. And if Obama doesn't need Edwards to sew up the nomination, he will certainly use him to reach out to working class white voters, a demographic he's not done well with.

Meanwhile, many Obama supporters in the crowd in Grand Rapids were pondering an even greater role for Edwards. Fifty-year-old teacher Linda Fitzgerald would like Obama to do what John Kerry did four years ago - make Edwards his running mate.

Ms. LINDA FITZGERALD (Obama Supporter): I was a big fan of John Edwards. I really liked him. I liked him with Kerry, I liked him better than Kerry. And I would love to see him for VP again.

GONYEA: But Obama said yesterday it's still far too early to talk about running mates. Attention will now shift to the leanings of the 19 delegates that had been pledged to John Edwards. They are now free to support whomever they like.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Grand Rapids.

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Edwards Backs Obama for Democratic Nomination

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards threw his support behind Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday, urging the party to unite to send a Democrat to the White House.

Standing alongside Obama at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Edwards said poor Americans have been shut out of the health care and education systems. Obama, he said, would tear down the walls that divide the rich and poor with universal health care and educational opportunities for impoverished students.

"There is one man who knows this is the time for bold leadership ... and that man is Barack Obama," said Edwards, a former North Carolina senator.

Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, quit the race for the party's presidential nomination in late January. Both Obama and rival Hillary Clinton had sought his support, and Edwards lavished praised on the New York senator in announcing his endorsement.

"She has shown strength and character, and what drives her is she cares about working people...and men and women in Iraq," Edwards said. "She's a leader in this country, not because of her husband, but because of what she has done."

The endorsement comes a day after Clinton handily won West Virginia's primary. But her victory did not change the dynamics in the race for the Democratic Party nod. Obama has a huge lead in the number of delegates who will select the nominee at the convention in August.

Edwards has 19 pledged delegates won in three states: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Most of those delegates have already been selected, meaning they are technically free to support whomever they choose at the party's national convention, regardless of Edwards' endorsement.

Clinton has promised to stay in the race through the final five primaries, as she tries to convince voters she stands a better chance of beating Republican John McCain in November's general election.

Obama hopes Wednesday's endorsement will give him an edge among the white, working-class voters who supported Edwards before he exited the race. Obama also signed on to an anti-poverty initiative that Edwards launched Tuesday with the goal of reducing poverty in the United States by half within 10 years.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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