"I believe I can be a champion for regular people.  My own life experience allows me to see things through their eyes.  They are the people I grew up with, the people who worked with my father in the mill, the people I fought for as a lawyer."
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Raleigh News & Observer's "Eye on Edwards"

 Rising Star 
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, Sen. John Edwards serves on four committees in the 108th Congress: Small Business; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Select Committee on Intelligence; and Judiciary.  During the 2000 campaign, he made Vice President Gore's vice presidential short list.  In November 2000, People magazine named Edwards, who is married and has had four children, as its choice for the "sexiest politician."  During the latter part of 2001 and throughout 2002 Edwards engaged in substantial politicking, and on January 2, 2003 he announced formation of a presidential exploratory committee, declaring himself a champion for regular folks.  On September 7 he announced he would not seek re-election to his Senate seat in 2004 "in order to devote all of my energy to running for President."  He formally announced his candidacy on September 16, 2003 in Robbins, North Carolina, in front of the old Milliken Mill where his father, Wallace, worked.

Setting Out a Moderate Course
In late 2002, Edwards delivered four major policy speeches, setting the stage for his January announcement. Addressing foreign policy and terrorism, the economy, and education, and homeland security, Edwards showed a moderate approach, assembling specific and constructive ideas, while eschewing radical or dramatic prescriptions, and setting out clear differences with the Bush administration.  For example, in his October 7, 2002 speech on foreign policy and terrorism, Edwards called for establishment of a domestic intelligence agency.  In his economic speech on November 12, Edwards advocated putting off President Bush's tax cut for families making more than $200,000, he advanced several ideas for streamlining the government, he suggested some changes to the tax code, and he put forth some ways to provide a short-term boost to the economy.

In the Senate
Edwards has styled himself as "The People's Senator."  One of his most noteworthy accomplishments is his work on patients' rights legislation.  On February 7, 2001, he, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act, S. 1052.  The Senate voted to pass the bill by a 59 to 36 vote on June 29, 2001, but the legislation failed to advance in the House.  An aide termed this effort "a major accomplishment and disappointment at the same time."  Edwards also worked with the maverick Republican McCain to address constitutional issues during floor debate on campaign finance reform. 

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, a number of commentators downgraded Edwards' presidential prospects, pointing to his limited experience in international affairs, but the North Carolina Senator proved to be very well positioned in terms of his committee assignments.  On October 2, 2001, before the anthrax letters episodes, Edwards and Sen. Hagel (R-NE) introduced legislation to address chemical and biological terrorism.  From his position on the Commerce Committee he has addressed airport and seaport security, and from the Judiciary Committee he has weighed in on law enforcement aspects of the response.  In January 2003 he introduced four bills to address the prospect of terrorist threats, touching on America's emergency warning systems, cyberterrorism, building safety, and providing intelligence to local first responders.

Edwards has taken a number of overseas trips.  In early August 2001, during the summer recess, he made a week-long trip to the Middle East, visiting Israel and Egypt and meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and high-ranking Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian officials.  He was a member of the nine-Senator delegation that made a week-long trip to Central Asia starting January 3, 2002.  At the beginning of December 2002 he visited Brussels and Great Britain.  At NATO headquarters in Brussels and Great Britain, he met with Lord George Robertson, the NATO secretary general, and American General Joseph Ralston, the supreme allied commander in Europe; in Britain, he met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street and with foreign policy and intelligence advisors including the director of MI5.

One bill that Edwards talked up quite a bit during the 107th Congress was the School Service Act of 2002, S.2392, which he introduced on April 29, 2002.  This would have established a national, competitive grant program to provide help for high schools that require community service.  Edwards' Community Corps would have complemented AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the USA Freedom Corps that President Bush announced in his 2002 State of the Union speech. 

Edwards faced a difficult issue when Trade Promotion Authority > came before the Senate in May 2002. Mindful that North Carolina's textile and apparel industries have been particularly hard hit by imports, he worked to ensure that provisions would be included to help displaced workers; he succeeded in passing an amendment to authorize  grants to community colleges to establish job training programs for adversely affected workers.

One criticism of Edwards is that he talks centrist but votes liberal1.  Edwards' pointed questioning2 of  U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering, Sr., President Bush's nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, during a February 7, 2002 Judiciary Committee hearing infuriated Republicans and conservatives.   Liberal groups such as People for the American Way and NARAL opposed Pickering's elevation to the federal appeals court, citing his positions on civil rights, reproductive rights, and church-state separation.  The Committee voted against confirmation in a 10-9 party line vote on March 14.  Weekly Standard publisher Terry Eastland accused Edwards and others on the committee of "borking" Pickering, and rankled Republicans were still fuming many months later.

Edwards has kept in close contact with his home state.  When the Senate is in session he meets regularly with  North Carolina constituents in "Tar Heel Thursday" sessions.  On January 22, 2002 he marked completion of visits to all 100 North Carolina counties with a stop at West Montgomery High School in Mt. Gilead (Montgomery County), becoming possibly the first North Carolina Senator to accomplish that feat. 

On the Political Front
In August 2001 Edwards formed a leadership PAC, the New American Optimists.  The "Optimists" brought on Steve Jarding, a top-notch operative, as its director starting January 2002.  Despite Edwards' support for campaign finance reform legislation, the Optimists went after major donations far more aggressively than any of the other 2004 presidential prospects' PACs; all told it took in 30 contributions of $50,000 or more, 28 from attorneys or law firms.  Steven Bing, the Los Angeles producer, was most generous, contributing $900,000. 

The Optimists put considerable resources into the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire.  In April 2002, the Optimists sent 123 computers to Iowa and 53 computers to New Hampshire, on loan, for Democrats to use on their 2002 campaign efforts.  Also in Iowa, the Optimists produced literature pieces for many state House and Senate candidates--15,000 each of 45 different pieces for 56 candidates.  There were also direct contributions to candidates and party committees; all told the Optimists poured at least $288,000 into Iowa and $197,000 into New Hampshire.  The Optimists also made a significant investment in Edwards' home state of North Carolina, not only supporting candidates and the party, but making its biggest expenditure on a get out the vote TV spot that featured Edwards.

In the 2000 election, Vice President Al Gore fared poorly in the South and in rural areas.  The Optimists demonstrated how Edwards may be able to make a strong appeal for support from these parts of the country.  David "Mudcat" Saunders focused on rural outreach for the Optimists.  In Iowa the Optimists sponsored a dirt late model car driven by state Rep. David Schrader.  It also signed up an official band, the Lonesome River Band.  "You got to understand the culture, and Johnny Edwards understands the culture," Saunders stated. 

During 2002 Edwards was profiled in The New Yorker (May), Vanity Fair (June) and GQ (December), but he got a taste of how fickle publicity can be when his May 5, 2002 appearance on "Meet the Press" received generally unfavorable reviews.  On a more positive note, in August 2002 Edwards has signed with Simon & Schuster to write a book "that will focus on the lessons learned during his distinguished legal career;" the book will be published in late 2003. 

Updated February 1, 2003
Strengths and Weaknesses
+ Comes across as a regular guy.
+ Edwards is relatively new to politics and offers a "fresh face."
+ Young and handsome.
+ Hailing from North Carolina, Edwards could do well in the South during the primaries and carry some Southern states in the general election (recall the 2000 electoral vote map, where all the Southern states were red--Bush).

- Not well known nationally.
- The Senate has generally not proven to be a good base from which to run a presidential campaign.
- Edwards' experience as an elected official is limited to less than one term in the U.S. Senate.
- Edwards faces re-election to his Senate seat in 2004; while there is no prohibition against seeking both offices this fact could complicate matters.

Readings and Resources
Raleigh News & Observer series "Fast Forward"
Rob Christensen and John Wagner.  "Easy smile hides iron will to win."  September 7, 2003.
Rob Christensen.  "Skills bring big rewards."  September 9, 2003.
Rob Christensen.  "Deep retreat, then a rally."  September 12, 2003.
"The Senate and beyond."  September 14, 2003.

Charlotte Observer series "Making of a Candidate"
Part 1  Tim Funk.  "Novice made quick mark in national politics."  August 17, 2003.
Part 2  Anna Griffin.  "Edwards work ethic grew in mill town."  August 18, 2003.
Part 3  Anna Griffin.  "Soaring success, crushing loss."  August 19, 2003.

David S. Broder.  "Running on The Story of His Life."  Washington Post.  June 8, 2003.  [Second in weekly series]. >

Janet Hook.  "John Edwards: Millionaire lawyer and senator hopes to turn his humble beginnings and brief political career into selling points."  Los Angeles Times.  May 25, 2003.  [First in weekly series].

Charles Hurt.  "Who is John Edwards?"  Washingtonian.  May 2003.

Bob Edwards.  "The Candidates: John Edwards."  NPR Morning Edition interview.  January 30, 2003. >

Richard L. Berke.  "Freshman Senator Sees the Presidency as His Next Office."  New York Times.  December 30, 2002.  [Fourth of weekly series on presidential prospects]. 

Robert Draper.  "Is John Edwards the Next Bubba?"  GQ.  December 2002.

Christopher Hitchens.  "Next Stop, The White House?"  Vanity Fair.  June 2002.

Nicholas Lemann.  "The Newcomer: A Democrat to Watch."  The New Yorker.  May 5, 2002. 
(newstand issues of this issue had a cover slip promoting this article: "The Next Bill Clinton?")

Joshua Green.  "John Edwards, Esq."  The Washington Monthly.  October 2001. (cover story)

Jason Zengerle.  "South Central: John Edwards and the Politics of Culture."  The New Republic.  April 9, 2001.>

Speeches and Texts
Presidential Announcement Speech, Robbins, NC, September 16, 2003.

Letter to North Carolina Democratic Party Barbara Allen, September 7, 2003.

Press Conference on Establishing Exploratory Committee, Raleigh, NC, January 2, 2003.

Address on Homeland Security, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, December 18, 2002.

Address on Education, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, November 21, 2002.

Address on the Economy, FORTUNE Global Forum, November 12, 2002.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Manchester, NH, October 18, 2002.

Address on Foreign Policy and Terrorism at CSIS, Washington, DC, October 7, 2002.

Democratic Leadership Council's National Conversation, New York City, NY, July 29, 2002.

Florida Democratic Party State Conference, Orlando, FL, April 13, 2002.

Transcript of Remarks and Q&A at Feb. 2 House Party in Concord, NH, Feb. 2, 2002.

Photo Caption: Sen. John Edwards spoke to the College Democrats of America National Convention in Washington, DC on Jan. 18, 2002.  He talked about his recently concluded trip to Central Asia, including a nighttime stop in Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action