- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

Former Sen. John Edwards, seeking to retain his public visibility as he considers another run for president in 2008, has found an academic platform that critics say was created solely to boost his political ambitions.

The one-term North Carolina lawmaker who became Sen. John Kerry’s vice presidential running mate in 2004 after his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination, left office in January and is now largely out of the national political spotlight. But the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stepped in to fill that void by setting up the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity that he will direct when he isn’t speaking around the country for Democratic causes.

The post, created by the university just for Mr. Edwards, is being criticized by Republican officials and others in the state who say the center is a nakedly partisan effort to promote Mr. Edwards among Democrats.

“The center appears to me to be nothing more than a political organization that was created out of whole cloth to give him a platform to voice his political ideas,” said Ferrell Blount, Republican state chairman.

“What is going on here is as clear as the blue sky over Chapel Hill on a spring day. Edwards is likely to run for president again in 2008. He’s out of office and needs a platform in which to stay visible and have a patina of respectability,” said Tom Ashcraft, a former U.S. attorney who is now a lawyer in Charlotte.

“There is nothing wrong with studying poverty or even with a politician becoming a professor. The problem here is that one of the nation’s best state universities, presumably dedicated to scholarship and academics, is allowing itself to be used for transparently partisan purposes by one of the country’s most demagogic politicians,” Mr. Ashcraft wrote in the Charlotte Observer.

The center, created by Gene Nichol, dean of the university’s law school, is described by officials as nonpartisan, even though Mr. Edwards’ press contact is Kim Rubey, a long-time spokeswoman for the Democratic Party. Calls to Mr. Nichol for a response went unanswered Friday.

Democratic officials, however, said there was nothing political about the post. “John Edwards is a graduate of UNC School of Law. He could have gone anywhere in the country. Instead, he chose to come back to his home state and teach at his alma mater,” said Schorr Johnson, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

Maintaining political visibility after leaving public life has always been a problem for officials who seek higher office, but suddenly find themselves out of the public spotlight.

Republican Frank Keating of Oklahoma, a two-term former governor who has been mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate, now runs the American Council of Life Insurers and its $1 million radio ad campaign.

Yet Mr. Keating didn’t deny that the ads also helped keep him in the public eye. “I don’t think any of us rule out a return to public office because we love it. I haven’t talked to too many former senators or governors who wouldn’t mind going back into public life.”

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