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Kerry announces Edwards as running mate
Updated: 2004-07-06 21:45

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry selected former rival John Edwards to be his running mate, calling him a man "who has shown guts and determination and political skills in his own race for the presidency of the United States."

With his announcement at a rally in Pittsburgh, a huge crowd of supporters burst into applause, waving handmade signs that mixed with professionally printed "Kerry-Edwards" signs kept under wraps until the last minute.

U.S. Democratic presumed presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (L) and Senator John Edwards confer before the start of a debate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in this file image from February 26, 2004. Kerry picked Edwards July 6, 2004 as his vice-presidential running mate, calling Edwards 'a champion for middle class Americans.' [Reuters]

"I trust that met with your approval," Kerry said with a smile as a banner unfurled behind him that read, "Kerry-Edwards. A stronger America."

By selecting Edwards, Kerry went with the smooth-talking Southern populist over more seasoned politicians in hopes of injecting vigor and small-town appeal to the Democratic presidential ticket. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, calculated that he didn't need to add foreign policy heft to the ticket. Called aloof by his critics, reserved by his supporters, Kerry hopes Edwards adds blue-collar pizzaz to the Democratic team.

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida emerged as Edwards' toughest rivals in a search that began four months ago with a list of about 25 candidate and a mandate to find a political soul mate who would be "ready at any minute" to assume the presidency.

"I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America, a man who has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle-class Americans and for those struggling to reach the middle class, a man who has shown guts and determination and political skills in his own race for the presidency of the United States, a man whose life has prepared him for leadership," Kerry said.

President Bush's re-election campaign wasted no time to criticize the choice. His political team planned to air a television ad featuring former Republican rival John McCain and titled "First Choice," an effort to paint Democrat John Kerry's running mate as his second choice.

McCain, the Arizona senator, rejected Kerry's overtures to be No. 2 on the Democratic ticket.

"He has not wavered, he has not flinched from the hard choices, he was determined and remains determined to make this world a better, safer, freer place," McCain says in the ad, referring to Bush.

The Republican National Committee called Edwards a "disingenuous unaccomplished liberal" and "friend to personal injury trial lawyers."

The ad alludes to what Republicans hope will be a problem for Edwards — his lack of foreign policy experience and political seasoning. It is not a new argument for Kerry: During the Democratic nomination fight, Kerry groused to associates that Edwards had no right seeking the presidency after less than one term in the Senate.

But aides said the Massachusetts senator steadily warmed to Edwards, first in the primary campaign, where he stood against Kerry until the end without going negative. After pulling out of the race, Edwards campaigned aggressively on Kerry's behalf and urged his contributors, mostly trial lawyers, to donate to his former rival's campaign.

Edwards' advisers, meanwhile, waged a quiet campaign on the North Carolina senator's behalf. Both Edwards and Gephardt had top aides who joined the Kerry campaign in recent weeks.

Edwards was at his home in Georgetown when Kerry called, readying his two young children for summer camp. Kerry called from his Pittsburgh home.

Obsessed with secrecy, Kerry kept his decision to himself until the last possible minute, giving Edwards no time to get to Pittsburgh in time. The newly minted ticket will meet up late Tuesday in Pittsburgh, where the candidates and their families will have dinner together at Kerry's estate. They fly to Ohio, a major battleground state, on Wednesday to their first joint appearance.

They will be nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which begins July 26. Kerry hopes to dominate the political landscape in the run-up to the convention, fleshing out his candidacy for voters who know little about him and hopefully opening a lead against Bush. Polls show the race is tight.

Edwards was the last major candidate standing against Kerry in the Democratic presidential race. He emerged as a favorite second choice of Democratic voters, thanks to his youthful good looks, a self-assured manner and an upbeat, optimistic style. He saved his harshest criticism for Bush, whom he accused of creating "two Americas" — one for the privileged, another for everyone else.

Some Democrats were concerned that Edwards, whose only political credential was a single term in the Senate, lacked the experience in international affairs, particularly in wartime, to be a credible candidate to assume the presidency in the case of death, resignation or removal.

Edwards and Kerry had few major policy disagreements — both supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, for example, and both voted against the $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan.

One division was over the North American Free Trade Agreement: Kerry voted for it, but Edwards campaigned against NAFTA, which the Senate approved before he was elected. Edwards made trade, jobs and the economy the centerpiece of his campaign, questioning Kerry's vote on NAFTA but not pledging to seek its repeal.

They also differed in some ways on how to approach some issues. Both called for rolling back the Bush tax cuts, but Kerry proposed eliminating the tax cuts for those who make more than $200,000 a year while Edwards set the ceiling at $240,000. Kerry voted against the ban on so-called "partial birth" abortion passed by Congress, but Edwards did not vote. A more clear-cut difference was Kerry's opposition to the death penalty and Edwards' support of it.

Kerry finished first and Edwards second in the Iowa caucuses in January, surprising front-runner Howard Dean and driving regional favorite Gephardt out of the race. Dean finished second to Kerry in the New Hampshire primary, and as Dean lost the next dozen delegate contests, the race became a contest between Kerry and Edwards.

Yet Edwards could never muster enough momentum to overtake his Senate colleague. He won only a single state during the competitive phase of the primary, his native South Carolina, and ended his bid following the 10-state Super Tuesday elections on March 2. North Carolina gave Edwards a victory in its first presidential caucus on April 17, but the vote meant more as a boost to his standing at the Democratic National Convention and to his potential as a running mate.

Edwards, 51, was born in Seneca, S.C., and grew up in Robbins, N.C. His father was a mill worker, and he announced his presidential campaign from the factory, then closed, where his father had worked and where he had swept floors to earn money for college. He earned a bachelor's degree from North Carolina State University in 1974 and a law degree from the University of North Carolina in 1977.

A Methodist, Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, have three children: Cate, Emma Claire and Jack. Their son Wade died in a traffic accident at age 16 in 1996.

Edwards worked in private practice in Nashville and Raleigh, N.C., for nearly two decades, earning a fortune from medical malpractice and product liability judgments. Although Edwards portrayed himself as a champion of ordinary people hurt by large corporations, the American Tort Reform Association described him as "a wealthy personal injury lawyer masquerading as a man of the regular people."

Pouring millions of his own dollars into North Carolina's 1998 Senate campaign, he challenged Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth. The incumbent failed to persuade people that Edwards was no more than a lawsuit-happy lawyer, losing his seat to the upstart politician by 4 percentage points.

In the Senate as well as on the campaign trail, Edwards tended to take a moderate stand on issues. Outside of North Carolina, he gained more public attention from media-coined nicknames like "Golden Boy" and as People magazine's "sexiest politician."

On behalf of Senate Democrats, he was part of the team that deposed former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and others linked to the impeachment case of former President Bill Clinton. Although Edwards had served just two years in the Senate, Al Gore considered him as a running mate in 2000 before choosing Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Edwards supports abortion rights and opposes private-school vouchers and partial privatization of Social Security. He backs domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples yet opposes gay marriage — and a constitutional amendment against it. He does not favor drilling for oil in the Arctic refuge.

In education policy, Edwards proposed offering one year of free tuition at public universities and community colleges for students who agree to 10 hours of community service a week and wants to double federal spending on public-school teacher training.

Edwards' health care proposals focused on providing better care and coverage for children. He has proposed tax breaks to make children's health coverage affordable to families that agree to buy it. Under his plan, a family of four earning less than $60,000 would pay less than $370 a year for their kids' insurance; a lower income family of four would pay about $110.

He also advocates subsidies to help two-thirds of uninsured adults buy health coverage. People aged 55 to 65 could buy into Medicare, under his proposal, and unemployed workers who are not wealthy could continue coverage from their last jobs with 70 percent federal subsidies.

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