Edwards will return home on Tuesday night to Raleigh where he will announce the next day that he's dropping out. At his Georgia headquarters Tuesday night, Edwards spoke as if the race were already over.
"I want to take a moment and congratulate my friend Senator John Kerry. He's run a strong powerful campaign. He's been an extra advocate for causes that all of us believe in, more jobs, better health care, a cleaner environment, a safer world. These are the causes of our party. These are the causes of our country, and these are the causes we will prevail on come November," Edwards told cheering supporters in Atlanta.
Edwards was Kerry's last major rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his decision effectively ended a short, relatively polite nominating campaign.
In a spirit of bonhomie, Kerry, his wife and a small number of staffers, watching from their election-night headquarters in Washington D.C., applauded Edwards as they watched him speak.
The North Carolina senator looked to Georgia to bolster his claim that he's the only Democratic presidential contender who can challenge President Bush in the South. After winning South Carolina but finishing second in Tennessee and Virginia, Edwards needed a victory here to give his claim new credibility.
But while he hunkered down at the Georgia Tech Hotel in midtown Atlanta in hopes of turning a victory there into newfound momentum, the polls refused to cooperate. Maryland, another state where he held out some hope of victory, also declined to give him a victory.
After losing in Dixie (search), the Northeast, the Midwest and the West, Edwards could find little reason to continue a campaign whose sole win was in his birth state of South Carolina nearly a full month ago.
"I see nothing in the public results or in the private data that I can say I find encouraging. John Edwards is a realist. He and the campaign will look at these results and come to a sober decision," senior Edwards adviser David Axelrod said before the polls closed.
Earlier in the day, despite his unflagging optimism, Edwards began to suggest his candidacy was drawing to a close. "At some point I've got to get more delegates or I'm not going to be the nominee," he told reporters.
North Carolina Democrats say despite his apparent decision to leave the race for the presidency, Edwards helped shape the race.
Scott Falmlen, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Edwards discussed poverty and other issues important to all North Carolinians and the country, and North Carolinians should be proud of his effort.
Other Democrats have suggested that Edwards could be a strong rvice presidential running mate to Kerry.
Edwards, 50, who came to politics in mid-life, won a close U.S. Senate race in North Carolina in 1998 against well-established Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth. The Senate race was Edwards' first foray into politics, a route he took after earning millions of dollars as a trial attorney.
Fox News' Major Garrett and the Associated Press contributed to this story.