Edwards gets Kerry's vote

Populist Southern senator, ex-trial lawyer `ready for job'

Election 2004 -- The Democratic Ticket

Kerry Selects Edwards

July 07, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

PITTSBURGH - Sen. John Kerry tapped Sen. John Edwards, the folksy North Carolinian who fought him unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, to be his vice-presidential running mate yesterday, saying the first-term senator and wealthy former trial lawyer is "ready for this job."

Kerry selected Edwards - whose broad grin, populist themes and positive campaigning style made him a popular rival to the more reserved Kerry during the primary season - after a vetting process conducted in painstaking secrecy.

The announcement comes three weeks before the Democratic convention, as Kerry and Edwards begin introducing themselves to voters around the country. Timed to give Kerry's campaign a spark of energy and attention, the announcement kicked off a convention buildup that aides hope will fuel excitement about the newly minted team and boost Kerry's standing in opinion polls that show him in a tight race with President Bush.

At a rally here yesterday, a crowd cheered Kerry's announcement, waving "Kerry-Edwards" signs and standing before a banner that read "Kerry-Edwards: A stronger America." Insistent that news of his choice not leak before he was ready, Kerry waited until early yesterday to phone Edwards to tell him and made the announcement while Edwards was still in Washington.

"I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America; a man who has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle-class Americans, and for those struggling to reach the middle class; a man who has shown guts and determination and political skill in his own race for the presidency of the United States; a man whose life has prepared him for leadership, and whose character brings him to exercise it," Kerry said.

Southern appeal

In Edwards, a handsome 51- year-old with little foreign policy experience but plenty of homespun charm, Kerry picked a Southerner who could appeal to voters in his native region and in the Midwest.

The son of mill workers who became a wealthy trial lawyer, Edwards provides a vivid contrast with Kerry, the Yale-educated son of a diplomat whom some voters find aloof.

Edwards was chosen over others Kerry had considered, including the more experienced Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, another primary rival, who has close ties to organized labor. Others mentioned as possible running mates were Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa.

Once he was ready to announce his selection, Kerry sent an e-mail to supporters registered at his Web site, giving them the news.

Kerry had told senior aides of his choice Monday night. He did so after he had called the company that would apply the decal bearing Edwards' name to the Boeing 757 that serves as Kerry's campaign plane.

The plane sat in a Pittsburgh hangar Monday night under the constant watch of a campaign aide, with Edwards' name covered with a tarpaulin. Vendors of Kerry-Edwards signs and T-shirts had to sign nondisclosure agreements, aides said.

Still, Edwards was hardly a surprise pick. He had campaigned and raised money aggressively for Kerry since ending his own presidential bid in early March, having won only one primary state: his native South Carolina. Edwards had made little secret of his desire for the post. And several Edwards aides have joined the Kerry team.

Republicans began a full-scale offensive against Edwards virtually the moment he was picked. The party launched a Web site devoted to criticizing Edwards as a "disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and friend to personal injury trial lawyers."

The Republicans released a report picking apart Edwards' voting record - including votes against Bush's tax cuts, for some defense cuts, in support of a tougher hate-crimes bill and against a ban on a late-term procedure its opponents call "partial birth abortion."

Bush's re-election campaign sought to discredit Edwards - first by suggesting he was not Kerry's first choice; and second, by calling attention to his lack of foreign policy experience.

The Bush campaign launched a TV ad featuring Sen. John McCain, a maverick Republican and former Bush rival who is wildly popular with independent voters, titled "First Choice" - an allusion to Kerry's unsuccessful overtures to McCain about joining the Democratic ticket.

Bush "has not wavered," McCain is shown saying in the ad, from a recent campaign appearance. "He has not flinched from the hard choices. He was determined, and remains determined, to make this world a better, safer, freer place." The presence in the ad of McCain, like Kerry a decorated Vietnam War hero, calls attention to Edwards' lack of experience in military policy and foreign affairs.

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