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Edwards quits White House race, Giuliani next

WASHINGTON - Democrat John Edwards abandoned his U.S. presidential bid on Wednesday and Republican Rudy Giuliani was expected to do the same, narrowing the field in both parties to two main candidates ahead of next week's big multi-state nominating contest.
Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) gestures to supporters at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, South Carolina in this January 26, 2008 file photo. (REUTERS/Chris Keane)

Giuliani's decision was widely predicted after his loss on Tuesday in the Florida Republican primary, but Edwards' move came as a surprise. He had vowed just last week to stay in the race until Tuesday, when almost half the U.S. states vote on candidates for the November election.

The withdrawal of Edwards, who campaigned as the champion of low- and middle-income families, left former first lady Hillary Clinton facing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in what seemed likely to be a long, bruising struggle.

"It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, told supporters in a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the same place where he launched his campaign.

Regardless of whether Obama or Clinton wins, Democrats will field a history-making ticket, the first time a major U.S. political party has had a black or a woman as a presidential candidate.

"We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history ... and with our convictions and a little backbone we will take back the White House in November," Edwards said.

Edwards did not immediately endorse either of his rivals.

Obama and Clinton, a New York senator, both surveyed the new political landscape and began angling for an edge. Both echoed Edwards' theme of ending poverty. Obama cast himself as the best candidate to take on John McCain, the clear Republican front-runner after his victory on Tuesday in Florida.

"We need to offer the American people a clear contrast on national security, and when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party, that's exactly what I will do," Obama told a crowd of 18,000 in Denver, saying Clinton had voted with McCain to authorize the Iraq war.

The candidates are in the early stages of a state-by-state battle to pick Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. The winners from the two parties will face off in the November election to succeed President George W. Bush.

Edwards' withdrawal coincided with media reports that former New York Mayor Giuliani would abandon his own presidential bid and endorse McCain, the Arizona senator.

That would leave McCain facing a strong challenge by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is still formally in the race but his lack of campaign money and limited appeal beyond Christian conservatives has left him trailing far behind.

Giuliani, in a strategic move, did little campaigning in the early voting states, focusing his efforts on producing a strong showing in Florida, the fourth most-populous state with its large number of retirees from the Northeast. But he finished a disappointing third place, barely above Huckabee.

McCain and Romney split the previous four of the state-by-state nominating contests. McCain won in South Carolina and New Hampshire and Romney carried Michigan and Nevada, the latter a state scarcely contested by other Republicans. Huckabee won the kick-off contest in Iowa.

Clinton on Tuesday won a Florida Democratic race that featured no active campaigning because of a dispute between the national and state parties. She and Obama split the first four nominating contests, with Clinton taking New Hampshire and Nevada and Obama winning Iowa and South Carolina.

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