Sen. John Edwards

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Sen. John Edwards
Sen. John Edwards.
Credit: Edwards Senate Web site

'John Edwards for President' button

Credit: From the collection of Ken Rudin, NPR News

Jan. 30, 2003 -- NPR's Bob Edwards spoke with Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) as part of an ongoing Morning Edition series of interviews with each of the announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Below, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin provides background on the Edwards candidacy.

Bob Dole had been on Capitol Hill 36 years before becoming his party's presidential nominee in 1996. Dole hoped that his long, often distinguished career in Congress would help him in his bid for the White House.

John Edwards is trying a different approach. Edwards, the 49-year-old, telegenic senator from North Carolina, is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, although it's been less than five years since he sought and won his first public office -- a 1998 defeat of Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-NC). Edwards, in fact, was on Al Gore's vice-presidential "short list" in 2000 -- when he was in office a mere year and a half. The question for Edwards may not be whether he is presidential timber; it's whether this is the right time.

The word on Edwards from the get-go is that he is very smart, and very ambitious. He is a millionaire several times over, having made his fortune as a successful trial lawyer. He is an excellent debater, and he has the ability to "connect" with voters -- some see similarities to the campaign style of another southerner, Bill Clinton. And, his supporters will remind you, for the Democrats to win in 2004, they've got to do well in the South... and who else could do that better than a southern candidate? They point out that the last three Democratic presidents were from the region: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Clinton.

On Capitol Hill, Edwards was a leading force behind the Senate's passage of the "Patient Bill of Rights" legislation. He also approved giving President Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq, which he has not backed down from.

One thing hanging over Edwards is that his Senate term also expires in 2004. State law allows him to run for both, but he says he won't choose that path. Tar Heel Republicans claim that Edwards is saying one thing at home for North Carolina audiences and another thing (from a more liberal vantage point) on the road for his presidential bid. This may complicate life for Edwards, who won his Senate election in '98 with just 51 percent of the vote.

Another complication may be the timetable for having to make that decision. Because of the state's filing deadline, Edwards will have to decide by early February of next year whether to seek a second Senate term, regardless of how he is faring in his presidential effort. He says he hasn't reached that decision yet, but here's what he must consider. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 19, 2004. Then comes the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27. At this point, Edwards is not seen as the likely winner in either state; his moment may be the South Carolina primary on Feb. 3, the first contest in the South. If he fails to win the Palmetto State -- or simply fails to meet expectations there -- then he may have to rethink his presidential candidacy altogether. Especially with that Senate filing deadline looming.

Finally, there is the issue of experience. Edwards argues that his brief stint in public office is not a reflection on his capabilities, that he has been fighting for the "little people" for years in his capacity as a trial lawyer. Maybe so. But some feel that since Sept. 11, 2001, the world has not been the same. And, that with one term in the Senate under his belt, Edwards may not have the gravitas to be considered the next commander in chief.

That is just one more challenge for John Edwards.

Note: On Sept. 7, 2003, Edwards announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate so that he could fully concentrate on running for president.

Related NPR Stories

more Dec. 17, 2003: Sen. John Edwards' startegy to challenge front-runner Howard Dean.

more Oct. 31, 2003: NPR's Michele Norris interviews Edwards.

more Sept. 16, 2003: Edwards formally announces his drive to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

more Sept. 15, 2003: All Things Considered presents an Edwards stump speech excerpt.

more Aug. 4, 2003: On Day to Day, Slate political columnist Will Saletan translates the Edwards' favorite buzzwords.

more June 8, 2003: Edwards has raised more money than any other Democratic candidate, but a majority of people in his home state oppose his presidential run.

more Jan. 29, 2003: A Tavis Smiley Show interview with Edwards about his presidential bid

more Jan. 2, 2003: Edwards announces his bid for the Democratic nomination for president. Hear an All Things Considered report.

more June 28, 2002: Listen to an All Things Considered profile of Edwards.

more Jan. 9, 2002: Hear a Morning Edition interview with Edwards about his trip to Afghanistan.

more Aug. 15, 2000: Hear an All Things Considered interview with Edwards.

more More Morning Edition interviews with the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates

Web Resources

  • John Edwards' presidential campaign Web site.

  • Edwards' official Senate Web site.