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Edwards' voters up for grabs

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  • Former Sen. John Edwards predicts Democrats will win White House
  • Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton praise former rival Edwards
  • Edwards has trailed Clinton, Obama in early primaries
  • Edwards won't give immediate endorsement to Clinton or Obama, sources say
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Former Sen. John Edwards dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday, leaving his voters up for grabs.

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Former Sen. John Edwards ended his presidential bid Wednesday.

The race for the Democratic nomination is now down to Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

"I think both candidates will benefit in the short term, but long-term, the candidate who talks about the plight of the poor, that champions the middle class, that talks about trade and health care ... will benefit from the support of John Edwards and, of course, the people who back him," CNN political analyst Donna Brazile said.

Senior Edwards aides said Edwards called Clinton and Obama to tell them he was considering dropping out of the race and asked them to make poverty a central issue of the general election and a future Democratic administration, something both agreed to do.

Edwards, who had collected 26 delegates, did not plan to endorse Clinton or Obama yet, but he may do so in the future, an aide said. Video Watch Edwards explain his decision »

An endorsement from Edwards would have a significant impact on the race, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn said. Check out the analysis by CNN's political team »

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"You could make an argument that the change issue does benefit Barack Obama, that he picks up that support. You could also make the argument that there's a lot of support out there amongst people that will go to Hillary," he said. "The big issue here is who will he endorse."

Some political pundits predict Edwards' supporters are more likely to lean in Obama's direction. Video Watch analyst Mark Halperin explain endorsement possibilities »

"The conventional wisdom is that Barack Obama will pick up maybe 60 percent of them, and in some places, that makes a huge difference," former presidential adviser David Gergen said.

Time magazine journalist Joe Klein said, "I don't think he endorses Hillary Clinton. The question is whether or not he endorses Barack Obama."

Klein contends Clinton "represents a lot of the things that [Edwards] campaigned against, you know, the old Washington Democratic establishment that he believes got too close to the corporations in the '90s."

Edwards had campaigned on the message that he was standing up for the little guy, the people who are not traditionally given a voice in Washington, and that he would do more to fight special interests.

Edwards announced he was dropping out Wednesday afternoon in New Orleans, the same city where he declared his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential race.

"It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," he said.

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With his wife, Elizabeth, and children at his side, Edwards said he couldn't predict "who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.," but he said it would be a Democrat.

"We must do better if we want to live up to the promise of this country we love so much," he said.

Earlier, an Edwards aide said the candidate was not getting the media attention he needed to get his message out and win delegates, especially with races coming up in 22 states Tuesday.

Campaign money was not an issue, the aide said. Video Watch Edwards announce his decision »

Edwards trailed Clinton and Obama in the early contests, including a third-place finish in Tuesday's Florida primary with 14 percent of the votes. He also came in third in key races in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Reacting earlier to Edwards' plans, Obama praised his former rival.

"At a time when our politics is too focused on who's up and who's down, he made a nation focus again on who matters -- the New Orleans child without a home, the West Virginia miner without a job, the families who live in that other America that is not seen or heard or talked about by our leaders in Washington," Obama said Wednesday.

Clinton called Edwards a champion of the American people.

"John Edwards ended his campaign today in the same way he started it -- by standing with the people who are too often left behind and nearly always left out of our national debate," Clinton said in a statement.

Commenting on his trip to New Orleans, Edwards said Tuesday the city symbolized why he chose to run for president.

"It's a living, breathing example of the heart of my message, what I'm talking about," Edwards said. "I mean it's the failure of government to be there when people need it. It's a perfect indication of the conditions of poverty that exist in America."

Klein said Edwards played a positive role in spurring his competitors during the early part of the campaign.

"On a lot of substantive issues like health insurance, he was the first one out of the box with a very ambitious universal plan, and I think he forced the others to become bolder in a lot of their policy prescriptions, energy dependence and so on," Klein said.

The remaining Democratic contenders face off in a debate at 8 p.m. ET Thursday on CNN.

One Edwards aide said he is not dropping out of the race because of his wife's health. Elizabeth Edwards announced last year that her breast cancer had returned.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer during her husband's 2004 vice presidential campaign as John Kerry's running mate.

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John Edwards is a South Carolina native with an undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University and law degree from the University of North Carolina.

Before entering politics, winning a Senate seat from North Carolina in 1998, Edwards was a lawyer representing families "being victimized by powerful interests" and gaining "a national reputation as a forceful and tireless champion for regular, hard-working people," according to his campaign Web site. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, John King and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.

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