Elise Amendola  /  AP file
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. and his former rival Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., joke with reporters in Washington on March 11.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 7/6/2004 10:12:06 AM ET 2004-07-06T14:12:06

The only Democrats to win the presidency in the past 40 years have been Southerners. If John Kerry wins on Nov. 2, he’ll break that streak, but with a boost from a son of Dixie, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

In style and appearance more than in ideology, Edwards offers a contrast with Kerry.
Edwards is slighter and shorter than the six-foot-four Kerry; Edwards moves nimbly and has a gift for charming chatter when he meets voters; he thinks and speaks quickly; Kerry sometimes seems a ponderous orator and an awkward mingler.

Edwards, who is 10 years younger than Kerry, is a small-town boy who went to state schools in North Carolina (as an undergraduate, he majored in textile technology at North Carolina State).

Kerry, the son of an American diplomat, was sent to a Swiss boarding school, then to the elite St. Paul's prep school in New Hampshire and graduated from Yale.

It is Edwards’ Southern identity that makes a compelling argument for him to be on the ticket.

During his unsuccessful but exhilarating bid for the Democratic nomination last fall, Edwards armed his Iowa supporters with this argument to use when they talked to their neighbors: “I want you to tell them, ‘This is the guy who can beat Bush everywhere in America, in the North, in the West, in the Midwest and in the South. People will say, ‘Wait a minute, George Bush is really strong in the South.’ You tell them I said this: The South is my backyard, not George Bush’s backyard.”

Edwards would joke with audiences in Iowa coffee shops, “I do want to point out that I’m the only person here who doesn’t have an accent.”

The 11 states of the Old Confederacy have 153 electoral votes, nearly 60 percent of the number needed to win the presidency.

Ever since the 2000 election, Southern Democrats have fumed that Al Gore neglected the South, with the exception of Florida, and as a result didn’t carry any Southern states.

Need for Southern strategy
Georgia Democratic Chairman Calvin Smyre said at a meeting of the Southern Caucus of the Democratic National Committee last October, “We are not going to win the White House unless we win some Southern states….You can’t talk about a national strategy until you talk about a Southern strategy.”

Edwards stepped up to the podium at that meeting and told his fellow Southerners, “We have never elected a president who was a Democrat without winning at least five Southern states and we’re not going to start this time. We need to compete in every Southern state.”

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

A defining moment in the labeling of then-frontrunner Howard Dean as “condescending” came at a debate last November when Edwards berated Dean for his remark about wooing white voters in Dixie who display the Confederate battle flag on their pickup trucks.

“The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do,” Edwards snapped at Dean, playing the moment for all it was worth.

“I grew up in the South. I grew up with the very people that you're talking about…. The vast majority of them, they don't drive around with Confederate flags on pickup trucks.”

Phenomenal courtroom success
On the campaign trail, Edwards was a relentless, always entertaining and sometimes slick performer.

He invoked his saga as a working-class boy — “the son of a mill worker,” as he said in every stump speech — who climbed his way up to become a phenomenally successful trial lawyer, trying malpractice and personal injury cases.

“I’d walk into courtrooms, it would be me on one side, and on the other side would be all those armies of lawyers from the big corporations,” he recalled. “They had the best lawyers money could buy, older, experienced. They looked over at me and kind of said, ‘What is he doing here? He thinks he belongs in this courtroom with us?’  –- and I beat ’em and then I beat ’em again and then I beat ’em again.”

And by beating them, Edwards amassed a fortune, $6 million of which he used in 1998 to defeat Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth.

Although wealthy, Edwards made a specialty of facile populism in last fall’s campaign. "This democracy doesn’t belong to that crowd of insiders; it belongs to you,” he declared at one stop in Dubuque, Iowa. “I tell you what we ought to do with these Washington lobbyists: cut them off at the knees.”

In his six years in the Senate, his voting record has moved from somewhat centrist to decidedly liberal. In 1999, based on an analysis of dozens of roll-call votes, the non-partisan National Journal ranked him more liberal than 72 percent of his Senate colleagues; but last year National Journal rated him more liberal than 95 percent of his colleagues.

Change on Iraq
Edwards supported the October 2002 resolution that gave Bush authority to attack Iraq. “I believe that Saddam Hussein’s regime presents a clear threat to the United States,” he said on the Senate floor. “The time has come for decisive action… the risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action.”

In April 2003 after U.S. troops had swept into Iraq he declared, “We’ve proved that we have firepower. Now we must show that we have staying power.”

But Edwards voted against the $87 billion Bush requested in October 2003 to continue the operation.

In a Nov. 17, 2003, interview with, Edwards explained that vote by saying, “I would support money for reconstruction, I would support money for the troops, but I would not support money for a failed policy, which is what we’re having right now. The president has not internationalized the effort, he has not given us a layout of what he intends to do over what period of time and I thought it was important for us to say, ‘No, what you’re doing is not working.’”

In the final lap of his bid for the nomination Edwards made “outsourcing” and international trade a theme of his campaign. During the fall battle for the nomination, Edwards assailed Kerry for voting for a bill in 2000 which gave trade benefits to sub-Saharan Africa. Edwards opposed the bill, his campaign said, “because it would inevitably send North Carolina textile jobs to Africa.”

But Edwards had voted for a trade bill that had an even bigger impact on his state, a measure establishing permanent normal trade relations with China, paving the way for China to join the world Trade Organization (WTO).

Benefits of China trade
On Sept. 19, 2000, Edwards told the Senate, “Trade between U.S. companies and the Chinese will likely explode in the coming years, generating jobs and revenues in this country. It could easily be the keystone in the continuing prosperity of this nation.”

Edwards explained that once China joined the WTO, North Carolina farmers would benefit because China would cut its tariffs and buy more poultry, pork and tobacco.

North Carolina has suffered from textile industry job losses, mostly due to Chinese and other Asian textile imports.

When asked Edwards last November about his vote for more trade with China, he said, “The Chinese have done a lot of things, including the manipulation of their own currency, which has contributed dramatically to this trade deficit….The Bush administration refuses to do anything about that.”

© 2013 Reprints


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments