- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — North Carolina Sen. John Edwards announced Thursday he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, saying he wants to represent working Americans who he believes deserve a champion in the White House.

"I think these people are entitled to a champion in the White House, somebody who goes to work every day seeing things through their eyes and who provides real ideas about how to make their lives better; not somebody who's thinking about insiders or looking out for insiders," said Edwards standing outside his home in Raleigh, N.C.

Edwards, 49, a millionaire personal injury attorney who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1999, said he discussed his bid for the presidency with his family.

Edwards' supporters say he is a personable lawmaker who has a close relationship with his wife, Elizabeth, to whom he has been married for more than 20 years, and his children Emma Claire, 4; Jack, 2; and Catharine, a student at Princeton University. Their first child, Wade, died in 1996.

Analysts say one historical fact may work against Edwards: only two senators since 1900 have ever captured the White House — William Harding and John F. Kennedy.

President George W. Bush had little reaction to Edwards' announcement. Bush, who had just finished taking reporters on a 4-mile hike around his Texas ranch, said he was not paying attention to politics.

"I'm going to continue doing the job the American people expect, which is to safeguard America and Americans," he said.

Edwards joins a crowded Democratic field seeking a bid for the White House in 2004. A poll conducted earlier this month found only 5 percent of Democratic registered voters said they would support Edwards. He was behind Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who led the survey with 25 percent of voter support, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., with 21 percent, outgoing House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., with 14 percent, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., with 10 percent.

Other potential candidates include retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO who is currently working for an investment bank in his native Arkansas, and African-American activist the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Edwards said he could reverse his low numbers by "presenting ideas and a vision of where the country needs to go."

Edwards told CNN Thursday his views and values represent the values of most people in the country. He said he did not make ideological decisions about anything.

I decide "what I think is in the best interest of the regular folks that I grew up with and have fought for all my life, and without regard to where it fits on some ideological spectrum," he said.

Democratic consultant Steve McMahon said poll numbers mean little now and recalled that Bill Clinton's numbers were roughly the same early in his campaign.

"It doesn't mean anything," McMahon said.

Edward's move to seek the presidency was risky, McMahon said, since he was up for re-election in 2004.

Where candidates are 11 months from now during the Iowa caucuses will be a better indicator, he said.

"They have plenty of time to establish themselves."

Edwards, and other Democrats with their hat in the political ring, will likely hammer Republicans on the state of the U.S. economy, particularly if it has not shown signs of strong recovery once the campaigns are in full swing next year. The unemployment rate currently hovers around 6 percent and the stock market has failed to fully recover since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the numerous corporate scandals last year.

"We need to cut some of the federal bureaucracy; we need to cut some unnecessary federal spending; and we need to have tax cuts for the kind of folks that I want to champion — for regular folks, middle and low income people — and not tax cuts for the top 1 percent of America," Edwards said.

Republican strategist Rich Galen told United Press International that what he called Edwards' class warfare stance did not work well for Democrats as a whole and likely won't work any better for the new candidate. Galen said that beyond Edwards' wealth and good looks there was little in the senator's background that demonstrates he would be successful in his run for the White House.

"He wanted to get it in before Congress started," said Galen, former executive director of GOPAC, a Republican political group. "It will be difficult for him to make news on his own."

Edwards, who is not widely known outside of North Carolina, has slowly been polishing both his domestic and foreign agenda in a series of speeches over the past year. In November, he traveled to College Park, Md., where he delivered an education policy address at the University of Maryland.

During that speech, he highlighted his College for Everyone initiative that would offer free tuition for the first year at a community college or a public university for students who pass college-prep courses and work 10 hours a week at a part-time job or in a community service program.

Critics said the proposal would be difficult to implement.

Edwards said Thursday he had new ideas to make the country safer, to find terrorists and to protect vulnerable U.S. targets such as nuclear plants, stadiums and subways. He said he wanted to enhance Americans' knowledge of how to respond should another attack occur.

"There are a lot of folks in this country have no idea what they're supposed to do if an attack occurs," he said. "They don't know any more about it than they knew on 9/11.

"Well, I've laid out a series of ideas about how to make that better, how to make sure we get a warning to them and make sure that there's a coordinated response when an attack occurs."

On possible war with Iraq, Edwards told CNN during an interview that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had to be disarmed.

"I've made very clear from the beginning that if it is necessary, we should be willing to use military force to make sure that this man does not get nuclear weapons," Edwards said Thursday.

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