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John and Elizabeth Edwards are stars of a show they aren't at

May 3, 2008 |  6:20 am

As the fevered North Carolina primary campaign kicked into its final gear this week, John Edwards accentuated his decision to remain neutral in the Democratic presidential race he once competed in by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in North Carolina going off on a family vacation to Walt Disney World.

But whatever recreation he and his wife, Elizabeth, were engaged in Friday night, their ears must have been burning -- in a good way. At a state party dinner in Raleigh, N.C., Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sang the praises of the Tar Heel native son they vanquished earlier this year, as well his high-profile spouse.

Clinton spoke first at the gathering and, as Times reporter Noam Levey relates, she stressed her commitment to the causes Edwards and his wife hold dear. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on the campaign trail in North Carolina

"Let me say what a great fighter North Carolina and working Americans everywhere had in John Edwards," Clinton said as the crowd cheered. "His courageous fight to end poverty is a fight I will see to the finish."

(Clinton has, in fact, pledged to create a Cabinet-level office devoted to focusing on poverty.)

"Let's take a minute to express our gratitude," she added.

But there was more. Clinton ...

then said, "I want to thank Elizabeth Edwards for her passion."

Amid more applause, she lauded the erstwhile first lady contender as "a true champion for universal healthcare."

Obama took the podium later and, as Times reporter Peter Nicholas noted, he dropped an intriguing hint that he won't forget either of the Edwardses if elected president.

Said Obama: "I'm so grateful for their contribution and I'm looking forward to working with them in the next administration to make sure we are doing everything we can to deliver on the full promise of America.''

Obama also commended the couple for spotlighting poverty in America, saying the Edwardses "really set the tone for this presidential race with their courage, with their ideas, with their passion and commitment to working people and to making sure that we focus our attention on not just the haves, not even the have-littles and want-mores, but have-nots.''

The Edwardses could be excused for thinking, if only more voters in the early Democratic contests had had such thoughts uppermost in their minds.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credits: Getty Images (Clinton); Associated Press (Obama)