Cate Edwards Makes Solo Campaign Trip

Cate Edwards, daughter of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., talks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Edwards for President Office in Manchester, N.H., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007. "I think it helps to have a young person talk about the issues in a way that's relatable," Edwards said. "I feel more comfortable talking to them, and I think they feel more comfortable talking to me, because I'm not that well polished and because I'm just a regular 25-year-old." (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Hanging out with new pals at a buzzing Manchester tap room, Cate Edwards sounded like any other college student cracking wise over a beer.

Among the topics for debate: of Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" interviews, which wins the award for most awkward? By consensus, they picked last month's appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne.

It's a typical night at the barroom, and no place for a presidential stump speech. And that suits the daughter of Democratic White House hopeful John Edwards just fine.

"I think it helps to have a young person talk about the issues in a way that's relatable," Cate Edwards said. "I feel more comfortable talking to them, and I think they feel more comfortable talking to me, because I'm not that well polished and because I'm just a regular 25-year-old."

On her first solo campaign trip through New Hampshire, Edwards tooled around the Granite State on Friday and Saturday in a minivan packed with campaign staff, making the case for her father in the most casual of ways. Her language when discussing policy wasn't always as pristine as that of a candidate. She usually referred to Edwards as "my dad," except when joking that he's "a hick."

A second-year Harvard Law School student, Cate Edwards also didn't hesitate to point out that she and her father disagree on some issues. Some are serious, such as gay marriage. Others, such as whether he should dance in public, not so much.

"It's not good," Cate Edwards joked of her father's dancing. "It's very dorky. And I don't say that as a politician's daughter, I say that as a daughter. I mean, you just don't want to see your dad do that."

There were no rallies or town-hall meetings on her schedule. Instead, she had coffee with students at a Dartmouth sorority house, drinks at the Manchester bar with other young Democrats, and a gathering with high school students who won't even be old enough to vote next year.

"You get a different perspective," said Alyssa Robins, a 22-year-old senior at Dartmouth and president of a sorority that hosted Edwards. "There's always an uncertainty about how genuine a candidate is when you're always seeing them in a political perspective.

"When you get to hear someone your age talk about the person, in a setting like this, it feels more real," Robins said.

Edwards has enlisted friends at Harvard, where she is a volunteer at the university's Legal Aid Bureau representing families facing eviction, to canvass for her father, a former North Carolina senator making his second run for the White House. A Princeton graduate, she appeared at several events this past weekend with Kate Michelman, an Edwards adviser and former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"Cate brings just another whole dimension to this campaign," Michelman said. "The family represents all the different aspects of the issues that they are running on."

Cate's brother, Wade, died in 1996 in an automobile accident. Her two younger siblings - Emma Claire, 9, and Jack, 7 - are fixtures on the trail and drew a full-fledged media horde when they spent Halloween trick-or-treating with their father in Bedford.

On the GOP side, Mitt Romney's five sons are active participants, blogging as the "Five Brothers" and traveling in the "Mitt Mobile." Other children of the candidates are less visible. Rudy Giuliani is estranged from his two children. Chelsea Clinton, the former first daughter who works in New York's financial district, has made some appearances for her mother, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

During her father's first campaign for president in 2004, Cate Edwards said she held the "cynical" belief that young people didn't care about the political process. But she said she discovered that they were eager to participate, but not always included in the process.

"Young people are very interested in what's going on in politics and very interested in the direction of this country," Cate Edwards said. "But one of the problems is that they just don't feel that they have a voice."

Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are more popular among younger voters than John Edwards, according to several polls. Cate Edwards thinks that's a product of how her father is perceived - something she sought to fight by sharing stories about her family, from their political discussions over dinner to how she and her mother, Elizabeth, disagree with his opposition to gay marriage.

"One of the things we can do as family is to be character witnesses for our parents and for my dad," Cate Edwards said. "It's really easy to talk to him as a real guy and a regular guy, because he is."

Generally soft-spoken, Edwards grows most animated when defending her father from critics who suggest that his large house, pricey haircuts and work at a hedge fund betray his focus on speaking for the less fortunate.

Cate Edwards said her father's advocacy for the poor always has been a central focus of his life. She told the story of how Edwards, when he was still a practicing trial attorney, would raise money through his firm to buy gifts for children from a low-income neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C.

"He always said to us: 'This is really important because we're incredibly lucky, and we've gotten all kinds of blessings and other people haven't. We need to give back"' Cate Edwards said. "And that's something he always instilled in us."

But, as is her style, the story also came with just the right amount of snark about her dad to help connect with voters her own age.

"My dad is a terrible gift-wrapper, so he wasn't really allowed near them," she joked. "He would dress up as Santa Claus, and he makes a terrible Santa Claus - he's too skinny and too tan."