Democrats In Race for Edwards's Support

By Shailagh Murray and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are aggressively courting former Democratic presidential rival John Edwards, but their attempts to win his endorsement will be put on hold for at least another day.

Clinton made a clandestine visit to Edwards's North Carolina home last Thursday to ask for the support of the former senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee. Obama had planned to make the same trip last night, but a conflict arose and the two had to reschedule the meeting, Obama campaign aides said. Both candidates have remained in regular contact with Edwards since he withdrew from the race two weeks ago, and each has vowed to carry on his anti-poverty crusade while quietly vying for his backing.

Although Edwards did not win a Democratic caucus or primary, he developed a strong following among working-class white voters with his vow to stand up to big business -- for instance by closing corporate tax loopholes that encourage companies to shift jobs overseas. As a campaign surrogate, Edwards could give Clinton or Obama an important edge in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, the three biggest contests ahead.

Where Edwards stands in the Clinton-Obama showdown remains a mystery, even among members of his inner circle. The former senator gained wide attention with his fiery speeches and strong debate performances, but his message of economic populism did not expand his support at the polls. A series of weak finishes in the early contests left him detached and frustrated before he dropped out of the race on Jan. 30.

Still, Edwards has a high profile after two White House bids, and his endorsement is likely to generate as much media attention as did Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's decision to back Obama late last month. Only a nod from Al Gore would carry more clout, but most Democratic officials expect the former vice president to remain on the sidelines for now.

After a debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last month, Edwards and Clinton held a 20-minute closed-door meeting that set off a buzz among Democratic operatives even before it ended. But Edwards also spoke at length with Obama by telephone after the Nevada caucuses. Obama told reporters last Thursday that he "had ongoing conversations" with Edwards, but he declined to offer details about the nature of their discussions.

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