about John Edwards' presidential aspirations date back to the
2000 campaign, when Al Gore mentioned the North Carolina senator's
name as his second choice for a running mate on the Democratic
man with deep Southern roots, began 2003 as a top contender for
the Democratic presidential nomination, and before the election
season was even under way, several magazines -- People, the New
Yorker and the New Republic, among others -- had published profiles
of the senator.
tells his story of growing up in North Carolina as the son of
a textile mill worker and a postal service employee, and has said
he believes his modest upbringing resonates with working class
voters -- one of the Democratic Party's core constituencies.
Born in Seneca,
S.C., Edwards moved with his family to Robbins, N.C., as a boy
and attended public school there. His parents belonged to labor
unions, and Edwards was the first in his family to earn a college
degree. After graduating from North Carolina State University
in 1974, Edwards went on to earn a law degree from the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
law in Tennessee for a few years, Edwards and his wife Elizabeth
returned to North Carolina where he began to practice trial law
at a plaintiff's firm. From the beginning Edwards had enormous
success as a trial lawyer, earning large sums for his clients
in negligence and malpractice claims. A fellow attorney told the
Boston Globe that Edwards "then and now he had almost a Clintonesque
ability to understand a complex subject and break it down to very
in several high-profile cases, Edwards' courtroom career culminated
in 1997 when he won North Carolina's largest personal injury verdict
ever for a young girl who had been permanently disabled by a swimming
to Edwards, personal tragedy and identification with his clients'
suffering strengthened his conviction to fight on their behalf
in public office.
occurred in 1996, when his 16-year-old son Wade was killed in
a car accident. Edwards had not spoken at length of the effects
the accident had on him until recently in his memoir, "Four
In the book,
Edwards describes his grief and how his personal identification
with his clients' suffering strengthened his conviction to fight
on their behalf. Although Edwards has now publicly shared his
loss, he still turns away questions as to how the tragedy affected
his political career.
personal and private to me, and I don't want to talk about it,"
Edwards consistently answers.
It was not
long after Wade's death that Edwards entered politics in a first-time
bid to oust Republican incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth. Able to
personally finance much of his own campaign, Edwards easily won
the primary election and waged a vigorous struggle against the
first-term conservative senator. Edwards developed an African-American
and metropolitan voter base with a populist-appeal ad campaign
and went on to win the 1998 election, garnering 51 percent of
the vote to Faircloth's 47 percent.
no time making an impression in Washington. The Nation magazine
highlighted him early on as a "progressive" legislator,
and his colleagues considered his arguments during the impeachment
trial so moving that Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, S.D.,
chose him as one of
three Democratic senators to preside over depositions.
craft the Patients' Bill of Rights, though he was unsuccessful
in seeing it through to become law. He also sits on the Judiciary
and Select Intelligence committees.
national security, Edwards has built a record as a moderate. He
voted in favor of the Patriot Act, the creation of the Department
of Homeland Security and the Iraq war resolution, but did not
maintain as high a profile in pushing these through to passage
as did fellow candidates Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Conn., and Rep.
Richard Gephardt, Mo. Edwards' subsequent criticisms of Attorney
General John Ashcroft and President Bush caused the most serious
flaps of his campaign, since he supported the initiatives he now
criticizes the two men for handling.
that Ashcroft has abused the powers granted him under the USA
PATRIOT Act, repeatedly calling for a moratorium on Justice Department
searches of public library records. The attorney general denies
ever using the authorization.
also faced repeated questions about the inconsistency between
his vow to "vote for what needs to be there to support our
troops" at the time of the Iraq war resolution and his recent
vote against President Bush's emergency supplemental request of
$87 billion. Edwards claims that the spending bill was "a
blank check," and that denying it would force the president
to present Congress with a clarified strategy.
Part of Edwards'
domestic plan is to repeal all the Bush administration tax cuts,
which he says benefited only the richest 2 percent of Americans.
He initially supported imposing tariffs on imported steel but
later said he would consider rolling them back, and responds vaguely
to questions on farmers' subsidies and the North America Free
Trade Agreement, indicating that he favors protecting American
producers but is hesitant to renounce former President Clinton's
policies adhering to free trade.
legal career proved very profitable, enabling him to self-finance
much of his campaign, Republicans have seen it as a liability.
As the Bush administration moved forward on tort reform in 2001,
it used the opportunity to try to eliminate Edwards as a presidential
contender. "America won't elect John Edwards president for
the same reason we've never elected a used car salesman president,"
declared GOP pollster Frank Luntz. "America hates trial lawyers."
GOP threats, in the fall of 2003 Edwards announced he would not
seek reelection to his Senate seat in 2004, in order to devote
his attention on winning the Democratic nomination. He has won
endorsement by key state legislators in Iowa and New Hampshire,
and his campaign war chest, funded largely by fellow trial lawyers,
Methodist, and his wife Elizabeth have three children: daughter
Cate, 21, a student at Princeton University, Emma Claire, 5, and
-- By Molly Farrell, Online NewsHour