- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

Sen. John Edwards, a first-term North Carolina Democrat who amassed a fortune as a personal injury lawyer, made official yesterday his long-suspected run for the presidency in 2004.
"I run for president to be a champion for the same people I fought for all my life: regular folks," Mr. Edwards told reporters at his Raleigh, N.C., home.
Mr. Edwards, 49, established a national reputation as a rainmaker by winning several multimillion-dollar lawsuits while still in his 30s. In his first run for office in 1998, the telegenic lawyer narrowly defeated Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth.
Mr. Edwards said he is not concerned that voters will consider him too politically inexperienced to hold the nation's highest office.
"I would say that I have exactly the kind of experience we need in the White House," Mr. Edwards said. "Somebody who's close to regular people, somebody who understands their problems."
In 1990, Mr. Edwards, then 37, became the youngest member inducted into the Inner Circle of Advocates a club of the nation's top 100 trial lawyers for his work in medical malpractice suits, which composed the bulk of his practice.
In 1997, a year before his Senate run, Mr. Edwards got a Wisconsin jacuzzi-drain manufacturer to settle out of court for $25 million for the horrific injuries suffered by a 5-year-old girl. That case earned Mr. Edwards the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's national award for public service.
Sean Conway, chief of staff for Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, said Mr. Edwards' pre-political profession is bound to be a liability. Mr. Allard has won three races against trial-lawyer opponents
"People have a negative opinion of trial lawyers," Mr. Conway said. "They're right down there with used-car salesmen."
Rival campaigns will be digging through North Carolina legal records to determine how much of those huge awards went to the client, and how much went to Mr. Edwards' law firm, Mr. Conway said.
"I'm not sure I'd put my candidacy on the notion that I'm not as bad as insurance companies," Mr. Conway said. "That won't fit on a bumper sticker."
Americans for Democratic Action gave Mr. Edwards a 95 percent rating in 2001, an almost perfect score on liberal issues. His lifetime average is 88 percent, the highest number ever recorded by the group for a North Carolina senator.
Scott Falmlen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said Mr. Edwards' record is an asset, not a liability.
"If people want to attack Senator Edwards for representing people who didn't have a voice if that's the attack they bring I have every confidence that he can meet that," Mr. Falmlen said.
Mike Hotra, spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association, said the "incredibly bright and incredibly ambitious" Mr. Edwards is not "your stereotypical personal-injury lawyer."
"He does not have the pinky ring. He's not an ambulance chaser," Mr. Hotra said, adding that in a speech to California Democrats last year Mr. Edwards impressed the audience with "a Clintonian ability" to communicate.
Mr. Edwards has spent the past several weeks criticizing the Bush administration on national security.
"There are a lot of folks in this country who have no idea what they are supposed to do if an attack occurs," Mr. Edwards said. He proposed the federal government set up a warning system to inform Americans perhaps by phone if a terrorist attack occurs while they are sleeping.
Mr. Edwards said yesterday that more must be done to "find terrorists within our midst" and to protect vulnerable nuclear plants, subways, stadiums, trains, and chemical plants. In a December speech, Mr. Edwards faulted President Bush for claiming "arbitrary power to arrest any American, label him an 'enemy combatant,' and then lock him up as long as they want without a lawyer."
American University history professor Allen J. Lichtman said Mr. Edwards' lack of political experience won't matter much to voters in "an absolutely wide-open" Democratic primary.
"It looks like 1976, when you have a range of secondary candidates, all of whom have significant flaws," said Mr. Lichtman.
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have both declared themselves candidates for the Democratic nomination. Other Democratic hopefuls include Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, former House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, and black activist the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York.


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