I won't regurgitate what lots of people are saying about John Edwards, other than to point folks to this post by OpenLeft's Chris Bowers. Beyond pushing the field to embrace more progressive legislation, Edwards is clearly the single biggest reason the Democratic Party's two remaining Wall Street-backed candidates ever even mentioned economic class and corporate power during this campaign. His decision to leave the race means there will be even less pressure on these candidates to keep addressing these issues.
As nonpartisan watchdog groups have shown, Edwards faced a media blackout from day one - a blackout that was totally disproportionate in comparison to where he was polling. He was also grossly outspent by his opponents. That he managed to put up such a spirited fight and rack up such solid results in the face of these inherent obstacles shows just how powerful his message was. Imagine, for a moment, had he gotten equal media coverage and been able to match his opponents spending (the latter, I acknowledge, is tough to imagine, considering his populist message hurts his ability to raise such huge money). Had media coverage and money been equal, it is fair to say Edwards could be winning the nomination right now, considering he was competing vigorously for it with those things not being equal.
There will be many legacies of the Edwards campaign - from the rebirth of moral issues like poverty into election issues, to a model for how to run against corporate greed. His August 23rd, 2007 speech alone was a legacy unto itself - maybe one of the most important (and, sadly, little-reported) campaign speech in the last 30 years of presidential politics. As it relates to future campaigns, Edwards' most important legacy will be how his candidacy validated all of us who have been showing how economic populism is the most effective politics in the current era. His against-all-odds success in running such an effective race against such steep odds proves - once and for all - just how powerful progressive economic populism is as a campaign theme.
I really hope that if the remaining candidates take one thing away from his announcement today, it is that full-throated, power-challenging populism is something they need to embrace.