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Edwards suspends presidential campaign

Edwards: 'Kerry has what it takes'

John Edwards holds his daughter Emma Claire on Wednesday after his concession speech.
John Edwards holds his daughter Emma Claire on Wednesday after his concession speech.

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John Edwards
Democratic candidates
Presidential primaries
America Votes 2004

RALEIGH, North Carolina (CNN) -- Coming home to a bittersweet hero's welcome, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina ended his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday, urging supporters to continue to fight for change and "never settle for less than our highest aspirations."

"I have never loved my country more than I do today," Edwards told a capacity crowd at Broughton High School in Raleigh, which his two oldest children attended. "All my life, America has smiled at me, and today I am smiling right back."

"It has been my greatest honor ... to have walked with you, because, from the beginning, this has never been my campaign. This has been your campaign, and I am blessed to have been a part of it."

Edwards also offered a passionate endorsement of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who becomes the presumptive Democratic nominee with Edwards' departure.

"John Kerry has what it takes right here to be president of the United States," Edwards said, pointing to his gut. "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."

Edwards' announcement that he was suspending his campaign and endorsing Kerry came a day after he failed to win any of the 10 Super Tuesday contests and fell more than 1,000 delegates behind Kerry. (Where things stand: A delegates scorecard)

Still, the fact that Edwards, 50, a telegenic millionaire trial lawyer and one-term senator, was the last major candidate to fall before the end of the primary season was one of the more unexpected wrinkles in what turned out to be an unpredictable 2004 race.

Prior to the Iowa caucuses, Edwards, though competitive in fund-raising, was nowhere in the polls. His decision to continue his long-shot presidential campaign instead of running for re-election to the Senate seemed almost inexplicable to many observers.

But then in Iowa, as Rep. Dick Gephardt and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean sparred, Edwards touted himself as the race's nice guy, the man who stayed positive and above the fray and stuck to the issues. He surged at the end and came in a surprising second.

"We proved those pundits and pollsters wrong," Edwards said Wednesday.

However, Kerry surged even more and came in first. The rest of the campaign became about catching Kerry, and nobody could. In the end, Edwards won only his native state, South Carolina, while Kerry rolled up 28 victories. (Bush takes aim at Kerry)

More than 1,500 people turned out at Broughton for Edwards' farewell, some of them fighting back tears. He was joined on the podium by his wife, Elizabeth, his parents and his children.

The senator reflected on the faces he met along the campaign trail, "the people I've listened to, the people I've embraced, the people who've made me laugh. People who have inspired me, inspired you. People who've made me think. People who've made me reach."

But in a parting shot at what he called the "politics of cynicism" on the campaign trail, Edwards urged his supporters to insist that the fall campaign remain positive.

"It's ... up to you to demand a campaign that is about addressing the problems of the American people and lifting them up -- and not politicians attacking one another," he said. "That is the campaign you deserve, because the truth is that those of you who cast your votes for me, you voted for a new kind of politics."

With the campaign over, Edwards will return to the Senate, where his term ends in January. He is being widely mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate on Kerry's ticket, though, during his campaign, he repeatedly disavowed any interest in the No. 2. slot. (Special Report: America Votes 2004)

CNN's Kelly Wallace and Justin Dial contributed to this report.

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