- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina insists that he will not get back into the race for his Senate seat now that he has abandoned his presidential bid, despite speculation among some Democrats.

“He’s said he’s not running for re-election,” spokesman David Ginsberg said yesterday. “Nothing has changed.”

Since Mr. Edwards officially began his presidential bid in September, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Rep. Richard M. Burr have slugged it out in the Republican-leaning state that is crucial to GOP hopes of strengthening their control of the Senate.

Still, several prominent North Carolina Democrats said this week they wish Mr. Edwards would re-enter the race, but declined to do so publicly because they don’t want to offend Mr. Bowles, the former Clinton White House chief of staff and likely Democratic nominee.

“I wish he would,” said one Raleigh Democrat and longtime Edwards supporter. “We’d have a much better chance at keeping that seat if he did.”

Some Democrats worry that Mr. Bowles will have a hard time breaking the 45 percent support that he got in his 2002 race against Elizabeth Dole. Also, Mr. Edwards’ popularity in the state has improved with his better-than-expected performance running for president.

A lot of North Carolinians are “proud of Edwards,” said Tim Vercellotti, who conducts polling for Elon University.

The recent consideration of an Edwards re-entry this late in the year has been made possible because of extensive delays in North Carolina’s Senate campaign-filing period, which now does not begin until late next month because of a partisan battle over the redrawn congressional districts.

The speculation has picked a scab of sorts between supporters of Mr. Bowles and Mr. Edwards, who have endured cool relations since last summer when Mr. Edwards delayed making a decision about his Senate re-election plans while he tested the presidential waters.

Democrats on both sides of the feud recalled a testy meeting last year of Mr. Edwards with Mr. Bowles, in which Mr. Edwards refused to bow out of the Senate race even as he unofficially campaigned for president.

“John didn’t want to rule anything out,” said one Bowles supporter. “He wanted people to get organized as if he would run without saying explicitly that he would run again.”

Mr. Edwards wanted the same courtesy that was extended to three-term Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who also waged a presidential campaign while facing re-election this year. Unlike in Mr. Edwards’ case, nobody expected Mr. Graham to make any decisions on anyone’s timeline but his own.

“John Edwards is no Bob Graham,” said the Bowles supporter.

Brad Crone, a Democratic consultant in Raleigh, said he has heard the rumors about Mr. Edwards’ re-entering the race but hasn’t seen any evidence that it will happen.

Rather, he suspects Mr. Edwards is hoping to hitch his fortunes to Mr. Kerry’s. He doubts, however, that Mr. Kerry will pick Mr. Edwards for his vice-presidential nominee because, among other reasons, “I don’t think he can win the state for Kerry.”

“He’s running for attorney general more than he’s running for vice president,” Mr. Crone said.

“The conventional wisdom is it’s like waiting for someone to ask you to the prom,” said Mr. Vercellotti. “He’s waiting for a call from John Kerry.”

If Mr. Kerry loses in November, Mr. Edwards plans to immediately begin running for president in 2008, advisers say. But even that has spawned a great deal of speculation.

“It’s really hard to see how he can stay in the public eye,” Mr. Vercellotti said. “Look at Al Gore, and he was the nominee” in the 2000 race.

New Hampshire radio-show host Arnie Arnesen was impressed with Mr. Edwards’ campaign but agreed that he would have a tough time keeping up appearances for four years.

“He should talk to Bill Bradley,” she said, referring to the former basketball star-turned-senator from New Jersey who left his Senate seat before seeking the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000. “It’s not easy. And he’s not a basketball star.”

Ms.Arnesen said the best way for Mr. Edwards to stay in the spotlight is to capitalize on his populist presidential campaign and immensely successful career as a personal-injury lawyer by becoming “the great whistleblower.”

He could, for example, file class-action lawsuits against corporations that pollute rivers or charge high interest rates to the poor.

“He should become the public’s attorney general, representing John Q. Public,” she said. “He could take on the corporate evil-doers.”

“Ralph Nader is last decade’s story,” Ms. Arnesen said. “John Edwards could be this decade’s.”

After four years, she said, Mr. Edwards would be in the best position to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

“And you know what,” Ms. Arnesen said, “Hillary Clinton will die. She’s got none of that nice stuff.”

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