Yesterday, John Edwards, former North Carolina senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, endorsed Senator Barack Obama. As Edwards stated, "The reason that I am here tonight is because the Democratic voters in America have made their choice, and so have I. There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership. There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change, that you have to build from the ground up."
Pundits and TV talking heads immediately weighed in, some asking whether the endorsement really mattered, others wondering why Edwards waited so long to endorse. Edwards' reason for waiting until now is not difficult to understand. He did not want to divide the Democrats any more than they were already split over the contentious race between Senator Hillary Clinton and Obama. Edwards placed a high priority on encouraging party unity. But he realized he could no longer straddle the fence, especially with Obama moving to secure the nomination and Clinton refusing to leave the race.
Edwards' endorsement matters. Edwards is the leading progressive populist figure in American politics today. His endorsement carries a great deal of weight with blue-collar voters. He has been a tireless fighter for marginalized and forgotten Americans. His endorsement will counteract the pernicious myth spread by the McCain and Clinton camps that Obama is an elitist, out of touch with ordinary voters. Finally, Edwards is a tremendously exciting political figure who will motivate large numbers of people to go to the polls come November. His strength rests in his ability to persuade men and women from all walks of life that they can -- and should -- make a difference. That is one of Obama's strengths, too, and the two of them working together are a political force to be reckoned with.