Edwards endorses Obama in bid to end clashes among Democrats

John Edwards, the champion of poor Americans who left the presidential race in January, endorsed Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate at a rally in Michigan last night.

His support comes just as doubts about Mr Obama's electability were resurfacing, after his stinging defeat by Hillary Clinton in West Virginia on Tuesday. But after picking up three more endorsements from superdelegates, who are crucial to winning the presidential nomination, Mr Obama now hopes the Democratic Party will quickly coalesce around him as its nominee.

Mr Edwards, who received a thunderous ovation when he was introduced to the crowd of several thousand Obama supporters, said: "Brothers and sisters, we must come together as Democrats" to defeat McCain. "We are here tonight because the Democratic voters have made their choice, and so have I." He said Mr Obama "stands with me" in a fight to cut poverty in half within 10 years.

Mr Edwards also praised Mrs Clinton, saying "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 added that Mrs Clinton is a "woman who is made of steel. She is a leader in this country not because of her husband but because of what she has done."

The trial lawyer and former senator for North Carolina comes from humble, working-class roots in South Carolina and was John Kerry's running mate in the unsuccessful 2004 bid. He should prove to be an invaluable asset to Mr Obama, especially in the large industrial states where he failed to attract the support of poor white voters.

For months, Mr Edwards has remained silent about his choice for the Democratic nominating contest, lying low in his North Carolina estate with his wife, Elizabeth, who is suffering from terminal cancer. Mrs Edwards is not expected to back Mr Obama, and has said she prefers Mrs Clinton because of her promise of bringing universal health care.

Even Mr Obama's most enthusiastic backers – university educated young whites – abandoned him in West Virginia. He received only 26 per cent of the vote, compared to 67 per cent for Hillary Clinton. Mr Edwards got 7 per cent of the vote, even though he has long withdrawn from the contest.

On the campaign trail over the past year, Mr Edwards often attacked Mrs Clinton as a typical Washington politician while joining Mr Obama's attacks on her. He frequently clashed with Mrs Clinton, accusing her of accepting millions of dollars from lobbyists, a practice that he and Mr Obama oppose.

Mr Edward's most useful role could be in defending Mr Obama's flanks from attacks by the Republican nominee, John McCain. He is well positioned to take on emerging Republican challenges.

Yesterday, Mr Obama took his campaign to working-class districts of Michigan. At the Chrysler plant near Detroit, where tens of thousands of jobs are being lost, he promised to bring investment for green car technology.

The candidate is learning the hard way the dangers of being cast as a cultural foreigner, if not an outright alien, by his opponents. Yesterday, Michigan Republicans released a video of an American flag slowly dissolving into a white background while a narrator intones: "Barack Obama believes that those of us from small towns in the Midwest 'get bitter and cling to guns and religion' ... He will compromise America's strength, mission and integrity."

Mrs Clinton's 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."

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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