Former Sen. John Edwards is charting a different course as he opens his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He’s claiming an edge in experience over potential rivals who seem to have momentum.
“There’s a maturity that comes with going through and being tested in the spotlight of a national campaign,” Edwards said Thursday, alluding to his experience two years ago as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
His first day as a declared candidate was a study in contrasts.
He launched the campaign in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, dressed in jeans and standing with volunteers — minus the cheering crowds and waving American flags that accompany most such announcements.
Edwards said volunteers working to rebuild a home “show what’s possible when we as Americans, instead of staying home and complaining about somebody else not doing what they’re supposed to, we actually take responsibility and we take action,” he said.
Afterward, Edwards headed for Iowa, where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the nominating season, for a more traditional opening. He declared his candidacy in front of nearly 1,000 flag-waving, cheering backers, then took questions for nearly an hour in a town-hall format.
When he sought the nomination in 2004, before Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry tapped him to be his running mate, Edwards offered himself as a Southern moderate who favored middle-class tax cuts and voted in the Senate to authorize the use of force in Iraq.
The message is different this time, where he faces an even tougher challenge and likely a larger field of competitors.
Edwards said he’s developing a universal health care plan and wants to build on the two years he spent dealing with such issues as poverty, energy and global warming. He repeatedly apologized for his vote to use force in Iraq.
“It was a mistake and I take responsibility for that,” Edwards said.
Edwards has spent the time since the 2004 election establishing a poverty center at the University of North Carolina, and he’s traveled widely to promote it.
“When you’ve got the freedom to move around the country, which I’ve had for the last couple of years, you can focus on the things you care most about,” he said. “As to whether the country is ready to hear it, I believe they are, but we’ll see.”
Edwards planned a six-state swing over three days, heading from Iowa to New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and his home state of North Carolina.
The announcement comes early to allow him to build grass-roots support in those key states, he said. All hold nominating contests early in the campaign.
Only Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack have formally announced their intentions to seek the nomination. Most of the attention is going to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, but Edwards said he is confident he can compete with both. He rejected suggestions that Vilsack’s presence in the race would force other candidates to skip Iowa.
“As many good people as can run is a good thing,” Edwards said.
Foreign policy credentials?
In his announcements, Edwards also touted global warming and alternative energy proposals he’s offered, and suggested taxing “the excessive profits of the oil companies” as one method of paying for them.
Edwards called questions about his foreign policy credentials “fair,” and he spent some time talking about his overseas travel, which has increased in recent months.
Besides calling for the start of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, he argued that the U.S. should lead efforts to stop the genocide in Sudan and the atrocities in northern Uganda. He accused President Bush of ignoring both issues.
He also targeted the call by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to send thousands more U.S. troops into Iraq, framing what could potentially be a general election debate.
“It would be an enormous mistake to adopt the McCain doctrine and escalate the war,” Edwards said.