To the surprise of many, the flaxen haired, poverty fighting John Edwards has bowed out of the Presidential race. Most observers picked the determined Democrat to fight on until Super Tuesday, despite running way behind Clinton and Obama in the polls. After all, Edwards had pledged to fight on until the convention. Instead, Edwards exited gracefully, saying,  “It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path.”

The media have immediately set about speculating over which candidate Edwards will endorse, but instead of being upstaged by a black man and a woman, this time it’s Republican lisper Rudy Guiliani who’s sucked the media oxygen out of golden boy’s announcement by exiting stage left a few hours later.

Rudy spent over $50 million on his year long campaign, which bought him the princely sum total of one delegate. Overcoming his own “bitterness”, the former New York mayor and 9/11 poster boy endorsed John McCain and promised to campaign for him “as much as he wants — or not.”

JOHN EDWARDS:

Edwards’ e word — equality: After Edwards announced that he was dropping out of the race, he planned to spend the afternoon working at a Habitat for Humanity house, a fitting exit for a candidate who spoke so passionately and so often about the plight of the poor and struggling. None of his rivals matched him when it came to talking about equality, one of the bedrock principles of the Democratic Party. He has often said combating poverty has been the cause of his life. With his campaign finished, the cause continues, and if the competition for his votes gets as fierce as everything else has been between Obama and Clinton, Edwards will be promised a way to continue that cause in a future Democratic administration. — John Dickerson, Slate

He threw a spotlight on the poor: Though he never made much of a mark in the polls, Edwards has had a major impact on this race by driving the conversation, something he deserves a lot of credit for. He was the first candidate out with a universal health care plan and the first to rail against trade agreements like NAFTA that, he says, have cost America a million jobs. He also brought a sense of morality and social justice to the race, themes both Obama and Clinton have folded into their stump speeches over the last month. Through a year of hard campaigning, Edwards has forced the Democratic Party to refocus itself on the plight of the poor. — Mathew Philips, Newsweek

Too white: Yet the real deal-killer, of course, was not Elizabeth or John or even his $400 haircuts, but the newer, more inspiring alternative to Clinton, Barack Obama. Because Obama so completely embodies the change that this election is about, no amount of spousal support or sunny uplift would have been sufficient. As Elizabeth herself said of her husband months ago, “We can’t make him black, we can’t make him a woman.” Just this once, it wasn’t the white guy who best matched the message, or the moment. — The XX Factor, Slate

The $400 haircut: Edwards announced his candidacy in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, redoubling up on his pledge to fight corruption in Washington on behalf of the neglected and needy. But he was plagued by a series of missteps that damaged his image as a crusader for the poor. First came a spate of stories when Edwards built a $6 million home on 100 acres outside Chapel Hill in 2005. Then came an embarrassing disclosure that he paid $400 for his carefully coifed haircut. Finally, it turned out working with non-profits wasn’t the only thing Edwards, a former trial lawyer whose estimated personal worth is as much as $30 million, did after the 2004 elections; he also worked for a New York hedge fund, earning an undisclosed sum.Jay Newton-Small, Time Magazine

So compelling they copied: Still, if Edwards wants to blame somebody for his defeat, he shouldn’t look at the media. He should look at himself. And I mean that in the best sense possible. Edwards’ biggest problem may have been that he was too compelling—so compelling that his rivals effectively adopted his agenda. From the beginning, Edwards was positioning himself as the champion of Americans struggling to get ahead financially. And rather than simply offer populist rhetoric, he backed it with a serious, comprehensive set of policies. — The Plank, The New Republic

John who?: According to the Edwards camp the media forgot he existed. Here’s a video they released earlier in the campaign to illustrate their point:

 

GIULIANI:

$50 million = one delegate: [Guiliani] spent in excess of $50 million on his White House quest…and won exactly one delegate. Rudy’s candidacy brings to mind that movie scene in The Fugitive, when a derailed train plummets in flames down an embankment. – Dick Polman

President of 9/11: During his campaign, Giuliani had referred to the events of September 11th so often that The Onion joked “Giuliani To Run For President Of 9/11.” Apparently, that verbal tic is contagious, as it now seems to be affecting McCain, who spoke almost exclusively about 9/11 when discussing Giuliani. — The War Room, Salon

The end of Sept 11 politics?: Giuliani’s national celebrity was based on his steady, comforting appearance in Americans’ living rooms amid the terrorist attacks, and his campaign for president never found a message beyond that moment. The emotional connection he forged that day, it seems, has proved politically worthless. — Politico

Terrorism has lost its sting: This election year, the nation’s economic woes replaced terrorism as a top issue for voters, and with that change, much of the rationale for Mr. Giuliani’s candidacy disappeared. When voting began earlier this month, Republicans and independents flocked to his competitors, the conservative McCain, businessman Romney and the ordained Baptist minister Mike Huckabee.The Wall Street Journal

The disastrous Florida plan: History will show the unconventional, and ultimately catastrophic, strategy to be one of the biggest miscalculations in US campaign history – and one that has brought Giuliani’s ambitions to be the 44th US president to a humiliating end. The scale of Giuliani’s collapse from his 20-point lead over his nearest rival last summer to third place in yesterday’s Florida primary was evident at the beginning of the week. — Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian

McCAIN:

John McCain is back on top: Even if he doesn’t know how it happened, McCain’s win over Mitt Romney in Florida basically turned the clock back a year. It negated, in essence, most of 2007 — when McCain entered the race as the front-runner, then collapsed; when Rudy Giuliani came in as the new front-runner, then bagged Iowa; when Fred Thompson showed up as the next Ronald Reagan but turned out mostly to share the 40th president’s fondness for naps. – Mike Madden, Salon

McCain disproves the doubters: The contest between John McCain and Mitt Romney has long resembled a horror movie, a blood-and-guts battle between a man risen from the dead and a candidate seemingly created in a lab. On Tuesday, a resurrected McCain slipped beyond the moneyed Michigan native’s manicured grasp to win by five points in the Florida Republican primary and cement his status as the G.O.P. front-runner. Romney smiled through a thinly revised version of his ritual stump speech, as though the race hadn’t fundamentally changed. But one could imagine what he might be thinking in the darker recesses of his mind: “Why won’t you die?!” – Ana Marie Cox, Time  

Reagan’s ghost: This is an exquisite moment for McCain. Maverick and avuncular, he has come back from the brink of oblivion eight months ago and is now — despite his support for Iraq, despite his party having to wear responsibility for the slowdown in the economy, and despite his age, 71, which would make him the oldest person elected president — the best overall candidate to lead his party to the election. – Bruce Wolpe, SMH

Roll on Super Tuesday: Mr McCain took 36% of the vote to 31% for Mitt Romney, his biggest rival for the nomination. The many military voters in Florida were expected to help the old navy pilot and Iraq hawk to victory. But he also did surprisingly well among groups not normally considered friendly to him. Voters calling themselves “very conservative” did not prefer him, but moderate conservatives did. He also ran even with Mr Romney and Mike Huckabee among evangelical voters. This was a surprise; his rivals play social-conservative cards far more frequently than Mr McCain. – The Economist

Flight of the Phoenix: …[I]n a sense, it’s all down to Romney. As he scans the landscape today, he sees McCain poised to sweep the Feb. 5 northeastern states and probably California (where Gov. Schwarzenegger is McCain-friendly). He sees Huckabee still on the trail, working the Feb. 5 southern states (Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas), garnering votes that he badly needs. Where does Romney plant his flag and win (finally, for the first time) a fully contested primary? Will the McCain-haters – including members of the party’s corporate establishment – buck him up anyway, and urge him onward? And remember, most of the big contests are “winner take all,” which means that you get zilch delegates if you don’t finish first. – Dick Polman

Peter Fray

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