|John Edwards with daughter Emma Claire
Washington, July 6: A 51-year-old southerner with little political experience, named by People magazine as America’s “sexiest politician”, is Democrats’ choice to be Vice-President in the November 2004 race for the White House.
John Edwards of North Carolina is a one-time senator, whose term runs out this year: he is not seeking re-election to the Senate.
But the self-made multi-millionaire lawyer, son of a textile millhand and a post office worker, has many other “cool” accomplishments to his credit, which are likely to endear him to American voters as the election campaign gathers momentum ahead of the Democratic National Convention — which formally nominates the presidential candidate and his running mate — at the end of this month.
In a refreshing departure from the hypocrisy in the public persona of American politicians, Edwards admits to having smoked marijuana. He has run in four 26-mile marathons, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania nine years ago with his 16-year-old son and is a Methodist by religious denomination, an attraction for black voters and largely Republican southerners.
Republicans have been quick to underline his lack of political stature and have mockingly said that his only international experience has been visits to the International House of Pancakes, the restaurant chain that specialises in an exotic variety of pancakes.
But what they fear about Edwards — whom Time magazine called “Democrats’ New Golden Boy” — is that he is Bill Clinton without scandal.
Extremely telegenic with an attractive southern accent that foreigners sometimes find unintelligible, Edwards is a perfect foil to the wooden Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is now at the centre of a morality storm for hurling the “F---” word at a senior Senator on the Senate floor.
In private, Republicans describe Edwards as the “Breck girl”, a reference to an advertising icon in the 1980s that was so popular it is now an exhibit at the Smithsonian museum here.
Although he has been in the Senate only for one term, Edwards shot into public spotlight when he defended Clinton during his impeachment trial on Capitol Hill in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Banking on that fame, Al Gore shortlisted Edwards among his choices for Vice-President in 2000, but the lack of experience went against him then.
Democrats hope that Edwards will bring to this year’s election the popular appeal of John F Kennedy on issues and the charisma of Clinton. Edwards was second to John Kerry in the Democratic primaries early this year but conceded the quest for the presidency to Kerry in March.
His favourite theme on the stump was that there are two Americas, one represented by George W. Bush, Cheney and the big corporations -- and a second one represented by ordinary Americans who are facing a growing burden of debt, poverty, poor quality education, lack of health care and inadequate social security.
These are themes which will resonate with the Democratic party’s base, which Kerry, partly because of his huge wealth and background, has so far been unable to energise to its full potential.
Edwards made his millions as a trial lawyer in personal injury and medical malpractice claims and gained such fame as a lawyer that many big corporations preferred settling cases with him out of court as soon as they found that he would be an adversary at the trial.
His experience as a trial lawyer is documented in Four Trials, a memoir published last year.