San Diego Union Tribune

July 7, 2004

Kerry selects Edwards
First-term senator expected to bring excitement to race


By OTTO KREISHER and TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

PITTSBURGH Sen. John Kerry chose one-time rival John Edwards as his vice-presidential running mate yesterday, hailing him as "a champion for middle-class Americans" whose life "has prepared him for leadership."

Kerry announced the choice of the charismatic first-term North Carolina senator in a downtown square here to a crowd of about 600 supporters.

Supporters roared their approval as the Kerry banner behind the stage rose to reveal Edwards' name and the slogan "A Stronger America."

Kerry, who conducted a long, wide-ranging and highly secretive screening process, will formally claim the Democratic presidential nomination in Boston later this month.

Kerry apparently finalized his decision late Monday night, and called Edwards at 7:30 a.m. yesterday. He then called the finalists on a list that initially included up to 25 people "from all walks of life," campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said. In keeping with the times, Kerry notified supporters with a mass e-mail before holding a traditional announcement.

Kerry chose Edwards, his last serious rival for the Democratic nomination, over several more seasoned politicians reportedly on the list, including Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Republicans immediately attacked Edwards for being a trial lawyer with scant political experience. The Bush campaign released an advertisement featuring Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican whom Kerry had approached about joining the Democratic ticket.

Kerry said his other candidates for the No. 2 spot could have led the country, "but I can only choose one as a running mate and this morning I have done so."

"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 those struggling to reach the middle class, a man who has shown guts, determination and political skills in his own run for the presidency," Kerry said.

Edwards, a multimillionaire attorney of humble roots who was elected to the Senate in 1998, was cloistered at his Georgetown home for much of the day while reporters and camera crews lingered outside.

He grinned and gave a thumbs-up when he emerged with his wife and family late in the afternoon to travel to Pittsburgh.

Kerry and Edwards will appear together today and will begin a four-day campaign swing.

"I was humbled by his offer and thrilled to accept it," Edwards said in a written statement released by the Kerry campaign. "I've served with John Kerry. He is a man of strength, character and courage. He has a vision for our country that will make life better for all Americans."

That populist message echoed the central theme of Edwards' campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, when he spoke of "two Americas" divided by income and health care.

Though he won only one contested primary in his native South Carolina his energetic campaign style and appeal to independents made Edwards a favorite of many party leaders for the No. 2 spot.

Charisma cited
It was a sentiment that they made clear to Kerry, bolstered by polls showing that Democratic voters also favored a Kerry-Edwards ticket. His selection appeared to please most of the crowd in Market Square for the morning rally.

Andrew Frazier, a retired schoolteacher, said Edwards would help the ticket in the South. "He doesn't have a lot of experience, but he can overcome that."

Jessica Mathews, 21, said Edwards would help attract younger voters.

"He's a bit more charismatic than Kerry," Mathews said.

Republicans wasted no time trying to make Edwards a liability for Kerry.

The Bush-Cheney campaign launched an ad, featuring McCain, called "First Choice," a reference to Kerry's overtures to the Republican during his search for a running mate.

The ad shows McCain introducing Bush at a rally, saying "he has led with great moral clarity and firm resolve" in the fight against terrorism.

The Republican National Committee attacked Edwards with dozens of pages of news articles, including some that included Kerry's criticism of Edwards as too inexperienced during the primary campaign.

Bush and Cheney tried to remain above the fray without distancing themselves from the Republican committee's comments. "I welcome Senator Edwards on the ticket," Bush told reporters. "The vice president called him early this morning . . . to say that he welcomes him to the race, and as do I."

Edwards' demonstrated ability to excite a crowd could offset Kerry's less-stirring speaking style, and his Southern roots may soften the Republicans' efforts to brand Kerry as a New England liberal.

'Two Americas'
But the factors that appeared to be most important in Edwards' selection were his origins as a millworker's son and his record of siding with working-class families against corporate interests.

That could help offset Kerry's image as a patrician who, despite his time in Vietnam with the Navy, seems to have trouble connecting to working-class voters.

Edwards' concern about the divide between the "two Americas," Kerry said, "is at the center of this campaign."

During the primary campaign, Edwards drew a sharp contrast with Kerry over trade and the Massachusetts senator's support of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But they agreed on many other issues, including their support for repealing Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans and using the money for health care and other programs.

Edwards' biggest liabilities may be those that Kerry mentioned during the primaries: his single term in the Senate and his relative lack of experience in foreign affairs at a time when the nation is embroiled in war in Iraq and a global war against terrorism.

"Edwards has a great challenge, after just six years in the Senate, to convince the American people that he has the knowledge, judgment and rootedness to handle big decisions that would fall to him" if he became president, said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program in Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of North Carolina.

"He's got to show that he has the wherewithal to handle the big war-and-peace issues," Guillory said.