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Edwards to Bow Out of Democratic Race

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

On the first day of this month, at the start of the presidential primary season, there were eight Republicans and eight Democrats running for the White House. By the end of today, those numbers may be down to a handful.

Republican Rudy Giuliani is expected to end his campaign after a disappointing result in yesterday's Florida primary. And on the Democratic side, John Edwards may be ending his run for the White House.

As recently as Sunday, he told NPR he was in this campaign until the end.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): You know, if you're doing this and you're doing it 16, 17 hours a day, and you believe deeply in the cause of giving voice to people who don't have a voice, this is what motivates me. This is what drives me every day. And the cause has in no way dissipated or gone away. And so I am in this for the long term.

MONTAGNE: John Edwards speaking on NPR last weekend.

NPR's Adam Hochberg is at the Edwards' campaign headquarters in North Carolina and joins us now.

And what's the mood there, Adam? What are you hearing?

ADAM HOCHBERG: Well, this all happened very suddenly, not just going back to Sunday, but even as recently as yesterday. John Edwards was telling people and his campaign advisers were telling people that he was in this race for the long haul. So this decision apparently was made late yesterday sometime.

We're not hearing any official announcement here from campaign headquarters. A campaign spokesman says that they'll have the senator speak for himself when he talks in New Orleans later today. But people here are obviously disappointed this. You're seeing a lot of emotion as you would expect after a long campaign like this comes to an end.

MONTAGNE: Now, John Edwards began his campaign just over a year ago in New Orleans. Let's listen to a little of his speech from that day.

Mr. EDWARDS: We want people in this campaign to actually take action now, not later. We don't want to hope that whoever is elected the next leader of the United States of America is going to solve all our problems for us because that will not happen. And all of us know it. And that's what's going to be the basis for my campaign. This campaign will be a grassroots campaign where we ask people to take action.

MONTAGNE: John Edwards announcing his candidacy last year.

We're talking to NPR's Adam Hochberg at Edwards campaign headquarters. And Adam, did John Edwards succeed in waging the kind of campaign that he intended?

HOCHBERG: Well, you know, his campaign message kind of morphed away from that message that we heard in New Orleans. That was that speech that we just heard was delivered around Christmas time 2006. And he did start his campaign with a lot of this rhetoric about making it a campaign about volunteerism and sort of a JFK-esque campaign, ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.

But we've seen more recently a different kind of campaign message from John Edwards, one where it became outsiders versus insiders where he talked a lot about the evils of Washington lobbyists and large corporations, and he was going to Washington as an angry fighter to wage war against these large moneyed interests who he said were destroying our government.

So his campaign changed a lot during the - better than a year that he was waging it.

MONTAGNE: You know, back to his leaving - his decision to end the campaign -what finally made him make that decision, as you understand it?

HOCHBERG: Well, we don't know at this point. And like I say, it came as a surprise. As recently as Monday, his campaign officials held a conference call with the news media, spinning out a number of scenarios that they thought could paint the way for John Edwards winning the Democratic nomination. They talked about the possibility of their being a brokered Democratic National Convention, where John Edwards could emerge as the consensus candidate. Or they talked about, at least, he could be a power broker, that he would have enough delegates that maybe he could swing the race, to either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

So this news has come as a surprise to just about everybody. We haven't heard his reasoning yet, why he decided to change his mind. Of course, as he's showing in the early primaries and caucuses has not been very good. He has finished third in South Carolina, his native state, this past Saturday, didn't even get…

MONTAGNE: Right.

HOCHBERG: …12 percent of the vote. So that's obviously a factor.

MONTAGNE: Adam, thanks very much. NPR's Adam Hochberg at the Edwards campaign headquarters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.