Former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards ended his underdog run for the presidency in New Orleans -- the same city where he announced his candidacy in December 2006.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, embraced New Orleans -- a city still ravaged by Hurricane Katrina -- as a glaring symbol of what he described as a Washington that didn't hear the cries of the downtrodden.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, once a leading GOP contender who polled near 40 percent support nationally in months past, announced Wednesday evening that he was officially leaving the race, and he threw his support behind longtime friend Sen. John McCain for the GOP nomination.
Giuliani, whose Florida-or-bust gamble came up a losing bet, failed to win a single county in his third-place finish Tuesday in the state. He also had dismal finishes in the previous first six primaries and caucuses.
Shortly after the candidate shake-ups began on Wednesday, consumer crusader Ralph Nader launched a presidential campaign exploratory committee Web site at naderexplore08.org.
Nader, viewed by some as a spoiler for Al Gore's campaign in the 2000 presidential race, told Politico's Ben Smith that the launch wasn't timed to Edwards' withdrawal, rather Rep. Dennis Kucinich's departure from the Democratic race last week.
"We're testing the waters on the overriding issue of corporate control, of our political economy, and anything else the dogma of commercialism wants to latch on to," said Nader, who has run for president several times as an independent and third-party candidate.
After Florida, the two parties' remaining candidates continue to campaign for votes in more than 20 Super Tuesday states -- the closest the U.S. has ever come to a national primary. The Democrats will duke it out in 22 states and the Republicans will fight over 21 states, of which eight are winner-take-all contests.
The son of a mill worker bows out
In 2006, Edwards burst out of the starting gate with a flurry of progressive policy ideas -- he was the first proclaimed candidate to offer a plan for universal health care, the first to call on Congress to pull funding for the war, and he led the charge that lobbyists have too much power in Washington and need to be reigned in.
Edwards, 54, managed to criss-cross the country promoting his progressive ideals while grappling with a family hardship that roused voters' sympathies. Last year, his family announced that his wife Elizabeth's cancer had returned and was incurable.
Flanked by his family and Americorps workers in a ravaged New Orleans neighborhood, Edwards said, "It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path."
"With conviction and a little backbone, we will take back the White House in November," he said of his Democratic party.
Edwards, whose style shifted from more centrist and reserved in 2004 to populist and fierier this election year, said he spoke with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama before his departure speech.
"They both pledged to me -- and through me to America -- that they will make ending poverty central to their campaigns for the presidency," he said.
Edwards did not win a single contest in the race for the Democratic nomination for the November election and lagged behind front-runners Obama and Clinton in public opinion polls. He did not immediately endorse another candidate.
After Saturday's third place finish in South Carolina, Edwards vowed to stay in the race and continue pushing his message, at least until the Feb. 5 contests.
With Edwards gone, it's unclear what will be become of his 64 pledged delegates and super delegates. Some political observers believed he would stay in the Democratic race to acquire "kingmaker" status. If Obama and Clinton continue to split the delegates but fail to get a majority, he could have essentially decided the party's nominee by shifting his support to once candidate or another.
There are 796 "super delegates" -- senators, House members, governors, former congressional leaders and other Democratic officials - who represent a fifth of the total number of delegates available in the Democratic nominating process. As Obama and Clinton continue to win states, both camps are jockeying for super delegate support, which could tip the outcome at the national convention in August, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
"On Capitol Hill, the chase after super delegate support has been unrelenting since summer," the paper reported. "So far, 81 members of Congress have endorsed Senator Clinton, 49 have endorsed Senator Obama, and 15 have endorsed former Sen. John Edwards (D) of North Carolina."
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Monitor, "The super delegates could wind up divided and find it as difficult to come to consensus as the public."
Last year, the GOP race seemed to be Giuliani's to lose.
"He accumulated a fat war chest - he had $16.6 million on hand at the end of September, more than Mitt Romney ($9.5 million) or Senator John McCain ($3.2 million) - but spent vast sums on direct mail instead of building strong organizations on the ground in South Carolina and New Hampshire," reported the New York Times, which endorsed McCain with scathing words for the former mayor.
Shortly before the Iowa caucuses, he made the fateful decision to abandon plans for a solid finish in New Hampshire or Michigan.
He retreated to Florida, hoping to score a momentous win there just before the coast-to-coast Feb. 5 nominating contests.
"This was a deeply controversial move," the Times reported. "No one had won an election by essentially skipping the first four or five caucuses and primaries. With this decision, he consigned himself to the media shadows during weeks of intensive coverage."
Giuliani hung his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on his leadership. His stalwart performance as New York mayor in the tense days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington earned him national magazine covers, international accolades and widespread praise.
But his somewhat liberal stance on social issues including immigration and abortion failed to resonate with conservative voters early in the nominating process.
"It bordered on science fiction to think that someone as liberal on as many issues as Rudy Giuliani could become the Republican nominee," Nelson Warfield, a Republican consultant and longtime critic of Giuliani told the Times. "Rudy didn't even care enough about conservatives to lie to us. The problem wasn't the calendar; it was the candidate."
In his Florida concession speech Giuliani joked how out of place he often seemed among conservative Republicans. "We're a big party and we're getting bigger," he said. "I'm even in this party."
On Wednesday evening, Giuliani confirmed that he was dropping from the race. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., just before a Republican presidential debate, he endorsed McCain and vowed to stump for him "any place where he and his campaign thinks I will be helpful."
"John McCain is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States," Giuliani said. "He's an American hero."
Giuliani recalled he had said in an earlier debate that McCain would be his choice for president if he were not running himself.
"If I'd endorsed anyone else, you would say I was flip-flopping," he said, mentioning an oft-repeated criticism of Romney, McCain's chief rival.
With Giuliani gone, McCain appears to be heading up the Republican field, although he still faces competition from former governors Romney and Mike Huckabee.
On Super Tuesday, New York is the biggest winner-takes-all prize for Republicans, with 101 delegates at state. Before the announcement of Giuliani's departure, McCain was still polling in first place there -- beating Romney by 18 points, according to an average of polls at RealClearPolitics.com.