Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)
Press Conference
Raleigh, NC
January 2, 2002

Well good morning.  Good morning to everyone.

Today I filed my--the papers to set up an exploratory committee to run for president of the United States.

I run for president to be champion, to be a champion for the same people I've fought for all my life, regular folks.  They're people like my own family, where I was the first to go to college and my dad worked in a textile mill all his life, where my mother's last job was working at the post office; to the people I went to school with, the people I grew up with, the families that I represented for almost two decades as a lawyer, and exactly the same group of people that are the reason I ran for United States Senate.

I think these people are entitled to a champion in the White House.  Somebody who goes to work every day seeing things through their eyes, and who provides real ideas about how to make their lives better, not somebody who's thinking about insiders or looking out for insiders.  This government belongs to them--these people that I grew up with and I've represented all my life--and they're entitled to have a voice and they're entitled to have a champion in the White House, and that's exactly what I would be, and it is why I'm running for president of the United States.

I have laid out over the last few weeks a series of ideas for what I think needs to be done in America.  Ideas to make the country safer, more specifically to--new ideas for how to find terrorists within our midst in a more effective and a new way, to protect our most vulnerable targets, particularly nuclear plants, stadiums, subways, trains, chemical plants, new ideas for how to do that; making sure the American people know how to respond if an attack occurs.  There are a lot of folks in this country who have no idea what they're supposed to do if an attack occurs; they don't know any more about it than they knew on 9-1-1.  Well I've laid out a series of ideas about how to make that better; how to make sure we get a warning to 'm, and make sure that there's a coordinated response when an attack occurs.

The second thing is how to get the economy going again.  You know we need to give some juice to the economy in the short term.  I've suggested a number of specific things--a $500 energy tax credit for families this winter; help for the states, help for the state budgets; help for businesses, bonus depreciation for business; help with unemployment insurance by extending it.  And secondly to keep the economy growing over the long term, and we need to do that by running this budget in a responsible, honest way.  For example, we need to cut some of the federal budget, we need to cut some unnecessary federal spending, and we need to have tax cuts for the kind of folks that I want to champion, for regular folks, middle and low income people, and not tax cuts for the top 1 percent of America.  And we need to operate this budget--have a balanced budget and operate it in a responsible way.  That's what families do all across America, and that's what we ought to be doing in the operation of this country and the country's budget.

And third, the idea of having college available for everybody; every young person who wants to go to college in America should be able to go to college, especially those kids who are willing to take college prep. and willing to work their first year of school.

So for me, this really boils down to a pretty simple thing.  I want to be a champion for the people who I have fought for all my life, regular people.  I want to lay out a vision for America that's bases on their view, based on their perspective, and based on ideas that'll make their lives better, and I am absolutely happy to be judged on the basis of my ideas and on the basis of my vision for where this country needs to go and I will continue to talk about new ideas as this campaign goes forward.

So thank you all for being here and I'd be glad to take questions.

Q. How much money have you raised so far, Senator?

SEN. EDWARDS: Well since the committee was formed today, none (laughs).

Q. How much of your own money do you plan to contribute?

SEN. EDWARDS: Oh I plan to fund this campaign from funds that we will raise.

Q. Senator, how is your campaign for the presidency going to affect ...representing North Carolina?

SEN. EDWARDS: I have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina.  They elected me to do a job, and I intend to do that job, and I will continue to do it.

Q. What would you say to voters who would question whether four years of political experience is enough to be president of the United States?

SEN. EDWARDS: I would say that I have exactly the kind of experience we need in the White House; somebody who's close to regular people; somebody who understands their problems; somebody who has ideas, real ideas, specific ideas about how to make their lives better; somebody who on the issue of national security and America's role in the world has a clear view of what that role is, which I believe I do, and I've talked about [it?] in the past; somebody who has good, solid judgment, which I believe I have, grounded in North Carolina values and beliefs; somebody who has strength of character, strength of conviction; and somebody who can earn the trust of people around 'em.  I think that is exactly what the American people are looking for in leadership in uncertain times, which we certainly have right now, and I believe I can provide that.

Q. Senator Edwards, are you ruling out a re-election bid for Senate if this candidacy doesn't go the way you want it to?

SEN. EDWARDS: What I'm doing is announcing I'm going to run for president of the United States, and I'll make a decision about the Senate seat somewhere down the road.

Other questions.

Q. Senator Edwards, you say you'd like to train the average American citizen on how to dal with a terrorist attack.  Could you elaborate on that?

SEN. EDWARDS: Sure.  What I've done is laid out a series of specific ideas for getting people in the communities more involved in responding to a terrorist attack. Having a warning system--just by way of example, if an attack comes in the middle of the night, most people won't have their television or their radios on, so we don't have any way to reach 'em.  We ought to have, one example would be to have a special telephone warning that would come in on the telephone and a way to reach--a separate way to reach people who in fact don't have telephones, and have people in the community engage, have first responders working with people in the community.

See I think people in America want to contribute; they want to be involved; they want to feel like they can do something to make their own familiy safe; they just haven't been asked.  We need to ask them.  We need to tap into this incredible feeling of patriotism that people have and let 'em contribute to their communities, let 'me feel like they can actually do something for their own community's safety and for their family's safety.

Q. When did you make this decision?  I know your family's been talking about it for quite some time.  When did you decide it's a go?

SEN. EDWARDS: Over the last two weeks.  Elizabeth and I and our family have been talking about it for a period of months and over the course of the last two weeks we came to peace that this was the right thing to do.

Q. Surgeons in West Virgina walked off the job because of high insurance costs.  How do you feel about tort reform?

SEN. EDWARDS: I think that the whole issue of malpractice insurance is a real burden for doctors and it's an issue that needs to be addressed.  There are lots of different theories about what causes rising malpractice [and?] premiums.  Some people believe it's the result of frivolous lawsuits; too many lawsuits that should never have been filed.  I think that if that's true and if empirical evidence supports that, we ought to do something about that.  Secondly, some people believe that it's just a function of the insurance companies investing in the stock market, and when their investments don't go well--as no one's investments in the stock market have gone well recently--they shift that burden to the premium payer.  That should not happen.  So I think that we need to look at this as a multifaceted problem, but it's a problem that needs to be addressed, a serious problem for people who provide medical care in America.

Q. But could you ever support--

SEN. EDWARDS: Yes.  I'm sorry.

Q. How do you convince voters to make a change in 2004 with the president's approval rating so high?

SEN. EDWARDS: If I am the nominee of the Democratic party in 2004, my job will be to present the American people with a clear choice, a different choice, an alternative vision for America.  My vision for America will be rooted in my perspective in championing the cause of regular people, not people who have lobbyists in Washington, not people--these are not people who are members of interest groups; they're people who count on their president to look out for them and they deserve a champion in the White House, and they deserve somebody who has real forward-looking ideas about how to solve their problems.  That's what I would be.

That's an alternative to this president, who I'm afraid too often has an administration that's run largely by insiders and too often for insiders, and there are multiple examples of that.

We couldn't get a patient's bill of rights because of his relationship with HMOs.  We couldn't bring down the cost of prescription drugs by closing some legal loopholes, because of his relationship with pharmaceutical companies.  We weren't able to do what needs to be done to make chemical plants, which are a huge source of risk for the American people in a terrorist attack, we weren't able to do what's necessary to make 'me safe because the chemical industry pushed back.  He weakens clean air laws because the energy companies want him to weaken clean air laws.  His economic policies are focused on people at the top of the income spectrum, not something that lifts up all Americans.  This is a very--we have a stark alternative to present to the American people and they'll have to choose.  I believe the alternative that we present is a very attractive one.

Q. Senator, do you think you'd be willing to accept the number two spot on the Democratic ticket in two years?

SEN. EDWARDS: I'm running for president of the United States and I am not thinking about vice president.

Q. Senator, how do you plan on standing up to President Bush's strong popularity right now?  Is now the right time, I guess, for you to be running?

SEN. EDWARDS: I think now is the time to talk about--it is always the best politics to have new ideas, ideas that the American people in their good judgment and commonsense will find attractive.  I think they are waiting, hungry for somebody to present a clear alternative vision, and our responsibility is to provide that choice, and I think we ought to start doing it right now to answer your question.

Q. Senator, how do you break out of a Democratic pack that is potentially going to be fairly large.

SEN. EDWARDS: What I intend to do is to be myself.  I'm going to talk about where I come from, what my values are, what I intend to do in the White House--present my vision and ideas to the American people and they'll have to judge what it is they want.

I mean I present something very different that some of the other Democrats, who are good people--there's a lot of them that are friends of mine; I have high opinions of 'em.  If the American people want a lifelong politician in the White House, that's not me.  They'll have a group of people to choose from if that's what they want.  If they want instead somebody who is closer to them, more connected to them, has spent his entire life fighting for them and comes from them, that is me.  And I do intend to present them with that choice.

Thank you all very much.

Copyright © 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action