When he announced in New Orleans a little over a year ago, he and his campaign strategists saw only Hilary Clinton on the radar screen.
While the Democratic Party had chatted her up for a long time, Edwards and his people saw a way to beat her. They didn't consider her to be inevitable.
Rather, she carried around a lot of "negatives" and he planned to exploit them.
He had spent several years running for president in 2004.
He knew Iowa. He knew the people there, and they knew him. He'd trounce her there and the momentum would propel him to victory in New Hampshire.
And of course, he'd win his home state of South Carolina, the only state he won in the 2004 primaries.
Enter Barack Obama and a huge change in the political dynamics.
Like Edwards, Obama runs as a change agent, a Washington outsider who'll make huge changes in the lives of the middle class and downtrodden.
And he seems to be the first attractive and truly electable black candidate to run for commander-in-chief.
Suddenly those who were attracted to Edwards' tried and true populist pitch were now hearing something totally new from a candidate who was also totally new. Edwards became odd man out.
Edwards lost traction early in the campaign with more than his share of bad press. $400 haircuts.
Making millions working for hedge fund companies he openly criticized. Living in a mansion voters can't even imagine. And all the time running as "one of them" against the fat cats.
Who he endorses now may well decide whether Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama represents the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential elections.
But unless one of the two asks him to be their running mate, and that is unlikely, this will end John Edwards' political career. No serious candidate has ever run three times.
He'll now come home to Chapel Hill to contemplate his future. It likely will not involve politics.
North Carolina Governor Mike Easley commented on John Edwards' departure from the presidential race.
"I am proud of John Edwards' effort during this very competitive Democratic presidential primary. He campaigned hard and focused on issues of critical concern to all Americans," Easley said. "His concern for working Americans gave voice to many who all too often are left out of our political process. I wish John, Elizabeth and their family all the best for whatever their future holds."