Edwards aligns himself with anti-war effort headed by supporters of Obama

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards resurfaced Monday to join several supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in pressing to end the Iraq war in order to salvage the U.S. economy.

Making his first public remarks since disbanding his campaign in January, Edwards appeared on a conference call with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and MoveOn.org — two groups that endorsed Obama in recent weeks — to make the connection between the two top issues in the campaign.

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Edwards refrained from endorsing Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the call, even though both have been courting him relentlessly.

But Edwards’s supporters say it makes sense for the former North Carolina senator to get behind Obama because of his strident opposition to the war, his criticism of Clinton’s vote to authorize force in Iraq, and his recent alignment with Obama supporters.

“To the extent that Edwards is seen as more of an outsider candidate, Hillary Clinton was very obviously an establishment candidate,” said Laura Clawson, a contributing editor to DailyKos. “Obama is for people who are looking for an outsider, for change, for whatever you want to call it.”

Yet Edwards kept both candidates guessing Monday, using his time to focus attention on GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). He spoke for a few minutes about the choice voters will have this fall and did not stick around for questions from reporters.

“We want to make certain that the American people know they have a clear choice between a Democratic nominee who will end this war and focus on all these issues that are creating economic anxiety and insecurity… and the other choice being Sen. McCain, the Republican nominee, who intends to continue the war, to continue the incredibly failed policies of George Bush,” Edwards said.

The conference call was not limited to Obama supporters, with several Democratic groups that are part of the Iraq/Recession Campaign on the line. Among them were VoteVets.org, Americans United for Change, USAction and the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank led by John Podesta, a former aide to President Bill Clinton.

Those organizations have not endorsed a candidate for president.

The coalition of liberal groups has relied on Hildebrand Tewes Consulting, the Democratic firm that helped Obama’s field efforts in the Iowa caucuses. It will spend more than $20 million on advertisements to highlight the Iraq and fiscal policies of McCain and GOP members of Congress in 2008.

VoteVets.org has already started airing a television ad in the Washington, D.C., market featuring an Iraq war veteran who appears with her infant daughter and criticizes McCain for supporting a war instead of measures to increase healthcare coverage. MoveOn.org will spend about $5 million in an effort to organize events on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war next month and on voter mobilization efforts in states where Democrats are targeting GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), John Sununu (N.H.), Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.) in races this year.

Edwards was also joined by his wife, Elizabeth, on the conference call. The coalition has yet to determine the exact role they will play in the campaign, said Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for the group.

Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, said that many Americans believe the country is already in a recession.

“Meanwhile, we’ve [put] $500 billion and many more into a failed state in Iraq,” he said. “That money should be going to those hurting [who want affordable healthcare].”

Anna Burger, the SEIU secretary-treasurer who pushed the union to endorse Obama, added Monday that the coalition will work to make sure that members of Congress will be replaced by new members “who will stand up for us.”

Burger co-opted some of Obama’s language against the war, which he opposed as a state senator in 2002 and is now using to distinguish himself from Clinton.

“We believe it was the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, and started for the wrong reasons,” Burger said. “It’s our children and sisters and brothers who are fighting this war.”