WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards endorsed Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday at a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"The reason I'm here tonight is because the Democratic voters have made their choice, and so have I," he told the boisterous crowd.
"There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership. There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change, that you have to build from the ground up," Edwards said. "There is one man who knows in his heart there is time to create one America, not two ... and that man is Barack Obama."
Edwards also praised Sen. Hillary Clinton's candidacy.
"What she has shown ... is strength and character, and what drives her is something that every single one of us can and should appreciate," Edwards said. "She is a woman who, in my judgment, is made of steel, and she's a leader in this country not because of her husband but because of what she has done." Watch Edwards give his endorsement »
He said that when the nomination battle is over, "and it will be over soon, brothers and sisters ... we must come together as Democrats."
Obama later praised Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, during the rally.
"I am so grateful ... for John Edwards to come to Michigan tonight. ... I'm grateful for his support ... but more importantly, I want to thank John for everything that he has already done to make us one America," Obama said. Watch an analysis of the endorsement »
After the announcement, Republican National Committee Chairman Robert Duncan released a statement asking, "Why didn't Edwards endorse sooner?"
"Edwards' endorsement of a candidate he previously blasted as inexperienced, hypocritical and lacking substance will not help Obama with voters looking for real change," he said.
Edwards dropped out of the Democratic race on January 30 after poor showings in the early contests.
He told NBC last week that Obama, the Democratic front-runner, is the party's likely nominee. Both Obama and Clinton had sought Edwards' blessing. Watch a report on the timing of the endorsement »
Clinton campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday that "We respect John Edwards, but as the voters of West Virginia showed last night, this thing is far from over."
According to CNN's latest estimates, Obama has 1,884 total delegates (pledged: 1,600, superdelegates: 284). Clinton has 1,718 total delegates (pledged: 1,445, superdelegates: 273).
Edwards, meanwhile, has 19 total pledged delegates who may or may not pledge their support for Obama at the Democratic National Committee's August convention in Denver, Colorado.
Edwards, who is not a superdelegate, said last week that it was fine for Clinton to continue making her case but expressed concern that a continued campaign could damage the party's prospects in November.
Wednesday's endorsement could help Obama reach out to white blue-collar voters, a demographic that Obama has failed to capture, most notably in the recent Pennsylvania and West Virginia primaries.
Edwards had campaigned on the message that he was standing up for the little guy, the people who are not traditionally given a voice in Washington, and that he would do more to fight special interests.
After dropping out of the race, Edwards asked Clinton and Obama to make poverty a central issue in the general election and a future Democratic administration, something both agreed to do. Watch Edwards discuss Obama and Clinton on "Larry King Live" »
An endorsement from Edwards, who ran as vice president on Sen. John Kerry's ticket in the 2004 presidential election, would have a significant impact on the race, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn said after Edwards dropped out.
"You could make an argument that the change issue does benefit Barack Obama, that he picks up that support. You could also make the argument that there's a lot of support out there amongst people that will go to Hillary," he said.
Some political pundits predicted Edwards' supporters are more likely to lean in Obama's direction.
"The conventional wisdom is that Barack Obama will pick up maybe 60 percent of them, and in some places, that makes a huge difference," former presidential adviser David Gergen said in January.
Time magazine's Joe Klein said Clinton "represents a lot of the things that [Edwards] campaigned against, you know, the old Washington Democratic establishment that he believes got too close to the corporations in the '90s."
Edwards announced that he was dropping out in New Orleans, Louisiana, the same city where he declared his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential race.
"It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," he said.
With his wife and children at his side, Edwards said he couldn't predict "who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," but he said it would be a Democrat.
Edwards trailed Clinton and Obama in the early contests. He came in third in key races in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Klein said Edwards played a positive role in spurring his competitors during the early part of the campaign.
"On a lot of substantive issues like health insurance, he was the first one out of the box with a very ambitious universal plan, and I think he forced the others to become bolder in a lot of their policy prescriptions, energy dependence and so on," Klein said.
Edwards is a South Carolina native with an undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University and law degree from the University of North Carolina.
Before entering politics, winning a Senate seat from North Carolina in 1998, Edwards was a lawyer representing families "being victimized by powerful interests," according to his campaign Web site.