- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

Freshman Sen. John Edwards is at the top of Democratic presidential contender John Kerry’s short list of running mates, and his most fervent supporters — who concede that he has little national security experience at a time of increasing threats from global terrorism — boast that he learns quickly.

“Maybe he doesn’t have all these credentials but at least he’s a fresh face, a highly intelligent person and a fast study for anything,” said North Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Barbara Allen about her home state’s favorite son.

The former trial lawyer, who never held elective office until winning his soon-to-expire six-year Senate term, is far and away the popular choice to be his party’s vice-presidential nominee. But the absence of defense credentials in his resume has emerged as one of Mr. Kerry’s thorniest problems with Mr. Edwards as the presumed presidential nominee narrows his running-mate list to just a few candidates, Democratic insiders say.

Several other former presidential rivals are on the list, including former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, a favorite of organized labor, and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who could help Mr. Kerry win a Southern battleground state that carries 27 electoral votes.

Mr. Kerry also is considering veteran Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and former Defense Secretary William Cohen of Maine, a Republican, according to a Democratic insider who is close to the party’s senior leadership and the Kerry campaign.

But no one on the list is campaigning for the No. 2 spot as hard as Mr. Edwards.

The senator has a full-time campaign office and a staff of six just five blocks from the White House to promote his vice-presidential ambitions. He has made nearly two dozen appearances across the country in Mr. Kerry’s behalf since April.

While he only won one primary, in his birthplace of South Carolina, and won the caucuses in his home state, he finished in second place in two dozen primaries before ending his presidential bid earlier this year. Advisers say Mr. Edwards hopes that when the Massachusetts senator makes his decision, he will give more weight to Mr. Edwards’ campaign abilities, his strong showing in the presidential primaries and his charismatic personality.

Mr. Edwards is reportedly the choice of a number of party leaders, including former President Bill Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Even consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose independent presidential candidacy could kill Mr. Kerry’s chances of carrying closely fought states, is urging him to pick Mr. Edwards because of his success in winning fat liability judgments against major corporations.

Interviews with Democratic chairmen across the country revealed similarly strong support for the youthful-looking, 51-year-old senator.

“Democrats here would love to see Edwards on the ticket,” Ohio Democratic Chairman Dennis White said. “He’d be an asset this fall, particularly in Ohio, if he were the vice-presidential nominee.”

But party strategists acknowledge that some Kerry advisers say that someone who could be just a heartbeat away from the presidency should have more experience on critical national security issues.

“Clearly Edwards doesn’t have the longest resume on national security,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a national security analyst at the Brookings Institution and a Kerry supporter.

“But at least he has some big things working for him. He is very smart — raw intelligence matters — and sometimes having a highly smart person with a fresh eye at looking at problems is healthy,” he said. “You could say he did sort of a crash course to learn [national security] issues quickly, but he gave meaty speeches about them.”

Moreover, the party’s standard-bearer has other things to consider with Mr. Edwards, one of them being the widely held belief that his more energetic, optimistic delivery would outshine Mr. Kerry’s dour, frequently pessimistic, low-key personality.

“I don’t think that would carry much weight with Kerry that someone might outshine him a little bit,” Mrs. Allen said.

Others are not so sure.

“It will be an interesting test of Kerry and his own self-confidence,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

Some Democratic officials, however, question whether the vice-presidential choice will have any impact on Mr. Kerry’s election chances.

“I’m a John Edwards fan but I don’t think people vote for the second man on the ticket. There are other factors to consider,” Tennessee Democratic Chairman Randall A. “Randy” Button said. “I don’t think [the late Texas Sen.] Lloyd Bentsen pulled a lot of votes for [former Massachusetts Gov.] Michael Dukakis in 1988.”

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