- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Two homes, two images, one candidate.

Former Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat who has made an anti-poverty message the theme of his 2008 presidential campaign, is taking heat for the lavish home he has constructed in Orange County, N.C.

In December, Mr. Edwards chose the modest back yard of a New Orleans woman who had lost her home to Hurricane Katrina as the image that best underscored his campaign theme.

Now voters are seeing another, sharply contrasting image of Mr. Edwards: his own home.

Sitting on 102 secluded acres — surrounded by trees and defended by no-trespassing signs — the 28,000-square-foot estate that Mr. Edwards and his family call home has presidential privacy.

A main home has five bedrooms and 6 baths. It’s connected by a covered walkway to a bright red addition known as “the barn,” which includes its own living facilities along with a handball court, an indoor pool and an indoor basketball court with a stage at one end. Nearby, the family has cleared space for a soccer field.

With a current building value of $4.3 million, the unfinished Edwards estate is already about $1 million more expensive than any other house in the county, according to tax records. It sits on land worth about $1.1 million.

Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer who made millions of dollars before winning a seat in the Senate representing North Carolina, has faced criticism regarding the estate. It also has become the subject of late-night jokes.

“Well, I think we know which America he’s living in,” Jay Leno quipped on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” a riff of Mr. Edwards’ frequent mention of the “two Americas” — one for the wealthy and one for the poor.

Monty Johnson, a neighbor whose property sits directly across from the Edwards tract, has posted a “Go Rudy Giuliani 2008” sign just 100 feet from Mr. Edwards’ driveway.

“The home is a monster. It’s way over the top,” Mr. Johnson said. “There’s no way that a normal family could ever need a house like that. It’s only going to hurt him. I don’t think he’s going to be able to sell his story that he’s for the poor people.”

Laurin Easthom, a Democrat and Town Council member in nearby Chapel Hill, said Mr. Edwards has earned the right to build a large home.

“I see somebody who has come from a very humble background and with really hard work has gotten to the point where he is,” Miss Easthom said.

Jennifer Palmieri, an Edwards adviser, dismissed the brouhaha as of little interest to voters.

After introducing their new home on her husband’s campaign Web site, Elizabeth Edwards explained that the couple had taken special precautions to make the house energy efficient, keeping in line with Mr. Edwards’ environmental platform. But she spent the next week battling blog-based critics who wanted to discuss the building’s size.

“What I do know is that it is no news bulletin that John and I have money. It is no news bulletin that he earned every cent,” Mrs. Edwards wrote.

Mr. Edwards and his wife live in the house with their two children, Emma Claire, 8, and Jack, 6. Their older daughter, Cate, is a student at Harvard Law School.

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