John Edwards

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This article is about the American politician, former Senator, and 2004 Vice Presidential candidate. For other uses, see John Edwards (disambiguation). Template:Infobox Senator

Johnny Reid "John" Edwards (born June 10, 1953) is a former United States Senator from North Carolina. Edwards was one of the major contenders for the Democratic nomination in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, and went on to be the running mate of the unsuccessful 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry. Edwards is considered a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.


Childhood and family

Edwards was born in Seneca, South Carolina to Wallace R. Edwards and Kathryn Juanita Wade. He spent his formative years in the town of Robbins, North Carolina. His father was a textile mill production manager, while his mother was a postal employee. Edwards was the first person in his family to attend college, first attending Clemson University and then later transferring to North Carolina State University when his family moved to North Carolina. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in textile technology in 1974, and later earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both with honors. While at UNC-Chapel Hill, he met and married his wife, fellow law student Mary Elizabeth Anania. They wed in 1977 and both served one-year clerkships for federal judges. Both Edwards and his wife began private practice with law firms in Nashville, Tennessee. Edwards became an associate at the prominent law firm of Dearborn & Ewing in 1978, doing primarily trial work, defending a major Nashville bank and other corporate clients. He was widely recognized by the senior partners at Dearborn & Ewing as a future legal star, based on the exceptional quality of his work, both in and out of the courtroom. When he started his legal career, he began using the name John rather than Johnny. The Edwards family, John, Elizabeth, and son Wade, returned to North Carolina in 1981, settling in Raleigh.

Edwards and his wife Elizabeth have had four children. Their first two, Wade and Catharine, were born soon after John and Elizabeth's marriage. In 1996, their 16-year-old son, Wade, was killed in an automobile accident; in remembrance of his son, Edwards wears Wade's Outward Bound pin on his suit jacket. Following Wade's death, Edwards and his wife chose to have children again; their two youngest, Emma Claire born in 1998 and Jack born in 2000. The Edwards family resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Legal career

Before entering politics, Edwards was a successful trial attorney who represented families and children that had allegedly been wrongly injured by negligent corporate manufacturers and municipal entities, as well as those allegedly injured by medical malpractice, especially by obstetricians. Edwards made his personal fortune of millions of dollars in the process. Edwards's total net worth is estimated to be between $22 million and $69.7 million. Drawing on his experience in personal injury cases, Edwards has characterized himself as a defender of "the little guy." Critics argue that Edwards' suits have enriched a handful of people at the expense of consumers and business as a whole.

A profile of Edwards in the New York Times during the 2004 campaign reported that his first big personal injury case was tried in 1984, winning $3.7 million on behalf of a man allegedly disabled during treatment for alcoholism. In 1985, Edwards won a $6.5 million verdict in a cerebral palsy case in which medical malpractice was alleged, and according to the Times article, "Mr. Edwards filed at least 20 similar lawsuits against doctors and hospitals in deliveries gone wrong, winning verdicts and settlements of more than $60 million, typically keeping about a third." [1] Edwards' tactics in medical malpractice cases have been criticized for alleged use of junk science; Edwards denies the charges.[2]

The biggest case of his legal career was a personal injury lawsuit against Sta-Rite, the manufacturer of an allegedly defective pool drain cover. The case involved a Cary, North Carolina girl, Valerie Lakey, who was disemboweled by the suction power of the pool drain pump when she sat on an open pool drain whose protective cover other children at the pool had removed, after the municipality had failed to install the cover properly. Edwards persuaded a jury to find Sta-Rite negligent by showing that the company had been aware of at least twelve similar injuries to other children. Sta-Rite protested that an additional warning would have made no difference because the pool owners already knew the importance of keeping the cover secured. Turning down all offers of settlement from the company, Edwards pressed the case forward until he secured a $25,000,000 award from the jury, the largest personal injury award in North Carolina history. Fellow lawyers and law students crowded the courtroom to hear Edwards' closing arguments. He spoke to the jury for two straight hours without referring to notes. It was an emotional appeal that made reference to his son, Wade, who had been killed shortly before testimony began in the trial. The company, which denied liability, settled for the $25 million while the jury was deliberating punitive damages, rather than risk appeal and bankruptcy. Edwards also recovered $5.9 million from settlements with other defendants in the case, including the pump manufacturer and the municipality that ran the pool.

In December 2003, during his presidential campaign, Edwards (with John Auchard) published Four Trials (ISBN 0-74324-4974), a biographical book focusing on some cases from his legal career.

Senate term

Senator John Edwards

Both the success of the Lakey case (which Edwards called "the best lawyering of my life") and his son's death (Edwards had hoped his son would eventually join him in private law practice) prompted Edwards to leave the legal profession and seek public office. A Democrat, Edwards won election to the U.S. Senate in 1998 by defeating the favored incumbent Republican, Lauch Faircloth.

Edwards's skill as a trial attorney was evident during President Bill Clinton's 1999 Senate impeachment trial. Edwards, who was responsible for the deposition of witnesses Monica Lewinsky and Vernon Jordan, played a critical role in the Senate proceedings that eventually ended in the President's acquittal.

During the 2000 Presidential campaign, Edwards made Democratic nominee Al Gore's Vice Presidential nominee short list (along with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, Gore's eventual pick), and in November 2000, People magazine named Edwards as its choice for the "sexiest politician." Edwards served on several Senate committees, including the prestigious Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

Before the 2004 Senate election, Senator Edwards announced his retirement from the Senate and supported Erskine Bowles, former White House Chief of Staff, as the successor to his seat; Bowles, however, was defeated by Republican Richard Burr in the election.

2004 presidential campaign

Edwards unofficially began his presidential campaign as early as 2001, when he began to seek speaking engagements in Iowa, the site of the nation's first party caucuses. On January 2, 2003, he announced formation of an exploratory committee, allowing him to begin fundraising while not officially campaigning. On September 15, 2003, Edwards unofficially announced his intention to seek the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (a news and political satire show), thus fulfilling a promise he made as a guest during TDS' coverage of the 2002 Mid-Term Elections. The next morning, Edwards made the announcement official from his hometown, Robbins, North Carolina. He declined to run for re-election to the Senate in 2004. Edwards' campaign was chaired by North Carolina Democratic activist Ed Turlington.

As Edwards had been building support for a presidential bid essentially since his election to the Senate, he led the initial campaign fundraising, amassing over $7 million during the first quarter of 2003, more than half of which came from individuals associated with the legal profession, particularly Edwards' fellow trial lawyers, their families, and employees. [3]

Edwards's campaign was often characterized by the American news media as populist. His stump speech spoke of "two Americas", one composed of the wealthy and privileged, and the other of the hard-working common man [4]. His refusal to level direct negative attacks at his fellow Democratic contenders also attracted attention.

Edwards giving his stump speech in New Hampshire, February 2004

After campaigning for most of 2003, Edwards' campaign struggled to gain large support in the Democratic Party. But in early 2004, weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Edwards began to catch fire and his support and poll numbers began to rise steadily. Edwards' late stage momentum, as well as his departure from the negative campaigning which characterized other leading candidates, carried him into a surprising second place finish in Iowa with the support of 32% of caucus delegates, behind only John Kerry's 39% and ahead of former front-runner Howard Dean at 18%. Edwards finished with 12% support in the New Hampshire primary one week later, essentially tied for third place position with retired general Wesley Clark. The following week, Edwards won the South Carolina primary and nearly beat Clark in Oklahoma.

After Howard Dean's withdrawal from the contest, Edwards became the only major challenger to Kerry for the Democratic nomination. Remarking on an unexpectedly strong finish in the Wisconsin primary on February 17, Edwards humorously cautioned Kerry: "Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear."

Edwards maintained a positive campaign and largely avoided attacking Kerry until a February 29, 2004 debate in New York, where he attempted to put Kerry on the defensive by characterizing the front-runner as a "Washington insider" and by mocking Kerry's plan to form a committee to examine trade agreements.

Edwards's campaign ended after a disappointing finish in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2, when Kerry finished well ahead of Edwards in nine of the 10 states voting that day. (Dean, despite having withdrawn from the race two weeks earlier, won his home state of Vermont.) Edwards finished only slightly behind Kerry in Georgia, but, failing to win a single state, chose to withdraw from the presidential race. He announced his official withdrawal at a Raleigh, North Carolina press conference on March 3, 2004.

Edwards on the campaign trail in 2004.
News of Edwards's withdrawal from the race made major media outlets relatively early on the evening of Super Tuesday, at about 6:30 PM CST, before polls had closed in California and before caucuses in Minnesota had even begun. This influenced many people in Minnesota to vote for other candidates, which may partially account for the strong showing of Dennis Kucinich in that state. Edwards did win the presidential straw poll conducted by the Independence Party of Minnesota. He also later won the Democratic caucuses in his home state of North Carolina, making him the only Democratic candidate besides John Kerry to win nominating contests in two states.

As the last major contender to withdraw from the race, many political pundits speculated that Edwards's presidential bid was not a "serious" campaign, but merely an attempt to raise his national profile, perhaps to earn a vice-presidential spot on the Democratic ticket.

On July 6, 2004 John Kerry announced, first in an email to his supporters and later in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that Edwards would be his vice presidential running mate. Kerry's decision was widely hailed by Democratic voters in public opinion polls and by Democratic leaders in interviews. According to sources close to Kerry, other individuals said to have been under consideration for the vice presidential nomination by the Kerry campaign were Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, retired General Wesley Clark, and Congressman Richard Gephardt (the New York Post had incorrectly reported a day earlier that Kerry had decided on Gephardt for the running mate slot). Though Ralph Nader and many Democrats supported the nomination, others criticized Kerry because of Edwards' perceived lack of experience. In particular, the nomination caused the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce, to throw its support to Bush when it had been neutral in previous presidential elections, because of Edwards' opposition to tort reform.[5]

The Kerry/Edwards ticket lost the 2004 election. Edwards' presence on the ticket failed to deliver even his home state of North Carolina for the Democrats; although since no Democratic presidential candidate had carried North Carolina since 1976, this was widely expected. Many pundits speculated that Edwards' presence on the ticket was designed to appeal to rural and middle-class voters in midwestern states, but Kerry ran behind Gore's 2000 results with these voters.

In the Electoral College, Edwards received 252 votes to Vice President Dick Cheney's 286 votes. Edwards also received 1 Electoral Vote for President.

Post Senate activities

Edwards is widely regarded as a potential candidate for the 2008 U.S. presidential election; his concession speech at the close of the 2004 race hinted at his continued presidential ambitions: "You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away. This fight has just begun." The following day, he announced that his wife Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Coincidentally, a few months earlier, in February 2004, doctors suggested that the distinctive mole on Edwards' upper lip might be developing cancerous properties; he had it removed, although it turned out to be benign.

During the following months, Edwards was courted by a number of organizations; he told interviewer Larry King that he doubted he would return to his occupation as a trial lawyer and showed no interest in the possibility of becoming the Democratic National Committee chairman, a post sought by fellow nomination contender Howard Dean. He finally chose to accept an offer from his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, of a part-time faculty position as director of a new "Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity" at the university. Shortly before the November 2004 election, he had purchased a parcel of land in Orange County, to which his family plans to move.

Throughout 2005, Edwards has carried out several activities that may constitute the beginning of a presidential campaign. In February, he headlined the "100 Club" Dinner, a major fundraiser for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. That same month, the University of North Carolina announced that he had been appointed as director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity in the university for studying ways to move people out of poverty.

On March 21 2005, John Edwards recorded his first podcast [6] with his wife. Several months later, in August, Edwards traveled to Waterloo, Iowa to deliver an address to the Iowa AFL-CIO, a potential key supporter in the Iowa caucus. The following month, Edwards sent an e-mail to his supporters and announced that he opposed the nomination of Judge John Roberts to become Chief Justice of the United States.

During the summer and fall of 2005, he toured the country, promoting various progressive causes. He visited homeless shelters and job training centers and spoke at events organized by such groups as ACORN, the NAACP, and the SEIU. He spoke out in favor of an expansion of the earned income tax credit, a crackdown on predatory lending, a raise in the capital gains tax, housing vouchers for minorities to integrate upper-income neighborhoods, and a program modeled on the Works Progress Administration to rehabilitate the Gulf Coast following the effects of Hurricane Katrina. In low-income Greene County, North Carolina, he unveiled the pilot program for College for Everyone, an educational measure he promised during his presidential campaign, in which prospective college students will receive a scholarship for their first year, in exchange for ten hours of work a week.

On November 14 2005, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, saying he regretted his vote supporting the Iraq War in 2002 and addressed three solutions for success in Iraq. [7]

Issue stances

While campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, Edwards completed the National Political Awareness Test. Some of Edwards' positions, ideas, and experiences with national issues which made up his campaign platform were:

  • National Service: Edwards believes in increasing military compensation. He supports increasing the servicemen's refundable child tax credit and improving the pay, housing, and health care for American troops. Edwards believes that more needs to be done to support soldiers' families and has introduced legislation to expand child care for families of active duty personnel and reservists.
  • Economy: Edwards proposed a plan to stimulate the economy in the short term while restoring the long-term fiscal discipline and leveling the playing field for American businesses. Edwards has fought for more resources to let individuals and communities recover from trade-related plant closings, and is a proponent of "fairer" trade agreements.
  • Education: Strengthening public schools is one of Edwards's top priorities. Edwards is against private-school voucher plans.
  • Security & Foreign Policy: Edwards believes that the country must be protected, but not by sacrificing rights and freedoms. Edwards believes in America's right to self-defense and working within the framework of international law. [8]
Edwards supported legislation to improve airport security, increase seaports safety, reduced vulnerability to bioterrorism, and enabled law enforcement agencies to keep known terrorists from entering the country. He cosponsored legislation to strengthen nuclear shipments safety (container strength, shipment escorts, and emergency coordination). Edwards is a proponent of legislation to fight cyberterrorism.
Edwards has proposed a new domestic intelligence agency to fight terrorist cells, strengthening security along borders, making terrorist targets less vulnerable to attack, and developing a better emergency warning system.
  • Immigration: Edward's Senate voting record was more in favor of expanding immigration than the average senator. [9] Edwards favors increasing border security, amnesty for illegal aliens, reducing border deaths. Edwards is a proponent of removing the backlog at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to encourage family reunification. Edwards believes in expediting citizenship applications and waiving the processing fees of immigrants serving in the U.S. armed forces. Edwards opposes the most recent Bush proposal to create a guest worker program without a path to citizenship- however Edwards supported all major expansions of H-1B visas-and was in fact a co-sponsor of such legislation. [10]
  • Law & Justice: Edwards opposes racial profiling. He favors fostering the due process rights of all those within American borders.
  • Gay Rights: Although Edwards does not support legalization of same-sex marriage, he opposes a Constitutional amendment to define marriage. He supports adoption rights for homosexual couples and overturning the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the U.S. military.

External links

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