- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has enjoyed a meteoric rise from unknown freshman to promising Democratic presidential contender. But as official campaigning gets under way, Mr. Edwards is experiencing some serious setbacks.
The most public of those has been the loss of two top strategists, who guided Mr. Edwards through his rise in Washington and onto the national stage as a viable challenger to President Bush in 2004.
First, he lost media consultant Bob Shrum, who defected to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. Mr. Shrum said he switched campaigns out of deference to his much longer relationship with Mr. Kerry.
Insiders, however, said there was discontent between Mr. Shrum and Mr. Edwards' campaign.
Jennifer Palmieri, Mr. Edwards' spokeswoman, said in a brief telephone interview that Mr. Shrum was an old liberal Democrat "who just couldn't get John Edwards."
"It was not a good fit."
Within weeks, the director of Mr. Edwards' political action committee announced that he, too, was leaving. Steve Jarding, who orchestrated the raising of $5.5 million for Mr. Edwards' New American Optimists PAC, declined to comment for this story but said he was entertaining several offers from other presidential contenders.
In addition to his top strategists, Mr. Edwards is losing David Saunders, his national rural liaison. Mr. Saunders helped develop legislation affecting rural areas.
"My leaving didn't have anything to do with how I feel about Johnny Edwards. He's a fine man," Mr. Saunders said from his home outside Roanoke.
The departures have raised questions about Mr. Edwards' ability to run a successful campaign.
"When key people who know you best decide to work for Kerry, it tells you something," said Arnie Arnesen, a Democratic radio host in New Hampshire.
Although Mr. Edwards has picked up some key supporters in New Hampshire, Mrs. Arnesen said, his campaign has been quiet in recent months.
Mr. Edwards' campaign chairman, Ed Turlington, said Mr. Edwards has been laying out his platform with in-depth policy speeches and raising money to challenge Mr. Bush.
Mr. Edwards has been "getting great support" financially, Mr. Turlington said.
In late 2001, after he hired Mr. Jarding to run his PAC, Mr. Edwards began raising money in earnest and spending aggressively to curry favor among influential people in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina the sites of the first primaries.
In little more than a year, Mr. Edwards outraised every other Democratic presidential contender. His top contributors were fellow trial lawyers. During 2002, he also branched out and raised money on Wall Street and in Hollywood.
Though Mr. Edwards staunchly supported campaign finance reform to ban soft money, 80 percent of his funds fell into that category. Still unanswered is whether Mr. Edwards can maintain his fund-raising pace now that soft money has been banned.
Mr. Edwards' PAC also found creative ways for spending the restricted money. In addition to the typical donation of cash to candidates' campaigns, the PAC donated hundreds of computers to state parties in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Also unusual is that Mr. Edwards ran television and radio ads during last year's election campaigns even though he wasn't on the ballot. The ads, which urged people to vote, were patriotic in nature and ran throughout North Carolina.
With the departures of Mr. Jarding and Mr. Saunders, Mr. Edwards lost the chief architects of his "rural strategy" to win back conservative Democrats in rural areas who have been in the Republican column for years.
Under Mr. Edwards, the rural strategy was aimed at Southern states such as South Carolina, where Mr. Edwards' was born. Now slated as the third state in the primary contest, a major win there could put Mr. Edwards on the map if he survives Iowa and New Hampshire.
A poll of South Carolina Democrats conducted this month by the public opinion-tracking firm Zogby International, however, found Mr. Edwards in third place, with 6 percent favoring him among Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, led the field, with 14 percent, followed by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, with 12 percent.
Mr. Turlington dismissed the early polls as a reflection of name recognition, not popularity. "Most people are not focused on any of this right now," he said.

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