North Carolina Senator John Edwards formally suspended his presidential campaign Wednesday, virtually ensuring that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will be the Democratic Party candidate to face President Bush in the November election.
Senator Edwards brought his campaign to a close in a speech at a high school in Raleigh, North Carolina. But he was quick to urge his supporters to now back Senator Kerry. "The truth of the matter," he said, "is that John Kerry has what it takes right here to be president of the United States, and I for one intend to do everything in my power to make him the next president of the United States and I ask you to join me in this cause for our country."
The Edwards withdrawal essentially clinches the Democratic presidential nomination for Senator Kerry. He will be confirmed as the party nominee at the national party convention in July in Boston.
The end of the battle for the Democratic nomination means the beginning of an eight-month general election campaign between Senator Kerry and President Bush.
Senator Kerry has already begun the process of choosing a vice presidential running mate, though he is not expected to announce his choice for some time.
A lot of Democrats would like to see Senator Edwards join him on the party ticket in November, but the campaign is likely to consider several candidates, including Florida Senator Bob Graham, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Senator Kerry did pay tribute to Senator Edwards in his victory speech Tuesday after winning nine of ten Democratic contests on "Super Tuesday," fueling speculation about a possible Kerry-Edwards ticket.
"There is no question that John Edwards brings a compelling voice to our party, great eloquence to the cause of working men and women all across our nation and great promise for leadership for the years to come," he said. "And we thank him so much for what he has done in the course of this race."
Voter exit surveys over the past six weeks of Democratic primaries and caucuses have indicated that Democratic voters preferred Senator Kerry because they perceived him as the strongest challenger to President Bush in November.
Experts like Georgetown University professor Stephen Wayne say Democratic voters appear to have united behind Senator Kerry as the presumptive presidential nominee.
"Senator Kerry begins the campaign in a strengthened position," he said. "Number one, he has satisfied Democrats that from their point of view he can beat Bush. Number two, he has unified the Democratic Party. There doesn't seem to be any major opposition within the party to his candidacy."
As for the president, his re-election campaign is launching a series of television advertisements intended to point out his achievements over the past four years. And Vice President Dick Cheney has been giving television interviews defending the administration's war on terrorism and its approach to creating new jobs and stimulating the U.S. economy.
Speaking on NBC television, Mr. Cheney said, "We will continue to push very hard to create the kind of jobs that are needed and to recognize as well that the proposals of the Democrats to raise taxes are exactly the wrong medicine."
Georgetown University expert Stephen Wayne says the president will try to paint Senator Kerry as a longtime liberal with a habit of changing positions on key issues such as defense and trade. He also says the Bush team will tout two main issues.
"To say that the issue is security and who better is able to provide it than George W. Bush," he said. "They want to show that the tax cuts have, in fact, regenerated the economy and that the economy is becoming stronger."
Analyst Stephen Wayne predicts a close election in November and says the result will probably hinge on a relatively small group of states that were narrowly decided in the 2000 election. He says the most competitive states will probably include West Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Florida, which decided the election in George Bush's favor four years ago.