CBSN

Edwards Launches White House Bid

Sen John Edwards, D-N.C., speaks to the media, Thursday, Jan 2, 2003, in front of his Raleigh, N.C. home. Edwards announced that he has formed an exploratory committee for a presidential run.
AP
Sen. John Edwards announced he is running for president, becoming the third Democrat to officially enter the race to challenge President Bush. He wasted no time in taking the offensive, telling CBS News Correspondent Scott Pelley Thursday that he questioned President Bush's motives for seeking tax cuts.

"My difference with the president is not that I disagree that we need tax cuts. My differences is what those tax cuts do. I think we need tax cuts that go to people who need the tax cuts and for who it will have a real impact on their lives. It will help them educate their kids, give them access to health care. Not tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of Americans," Edwards said.

Edwards also insisted that although he is a millionaire trial lawyer, he is not out of touch with the concerns of low-income Americans. He also told Pelley voters should not be discouraged by concerns that a first-term senator lacks foreign policy experience.

"President Reagan came to the office with very little foreign policy experience. We've seen it in subsequent presidents, with President Clinton and with this president in the period immediately following 9/11. So I think that what the American people want, and what they should want, in leadership and crisis situations and times of uncertainly are leaders they can rely on," Edwards told Pelley.

Political analysts say Edwards has a selling point other democratic contenders do not: a southern heritage.

"The dilemma for the Democratic Party is how to win votes of middle income white Southerners and I would say he has an excellent chance of bringing a few of the Southern states home," Paul Luebke, the author of "Tar Heel Politics" told CBS News Correspondent Bobbi Harley.

Edwards, a first-term Democrat and former trial lawyer, has spent months making the rounds at Democratic functions in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

As Harley reports, while former Vice President Al Gore bowed out of the race, more than a handful of other democrats have stepped forward. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Vermont Governor Howard Dean have already announced they're running. Sources say Missouri representative Dick Gephardt is expected to announce the first steps of his presidential campaign this weekend. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and Florida Senator Bob Graham will make up their minds later this month.

This roster clearly leaves Edwards the political neophyte. The 49-year-old's first election to public office was the senate in 1998.

Edwards has been working for weeks with political advisers putting together the framework for a presidential campaign organization, said one Democratic Party operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Forming an exploratory committee allows a candidate to raise funds for a potential race.

Consultants likely to serve in key roles include two former political advisers to Gore — Nick Baldick, who heads Dewey Square Group, and David Ginsberg, a research and media consultant. Steve Jarding, who heads Edwards' PAC, the New American Optimists, will also fill a key slot, the operative said.

As the lone Southerner among the half-dozen potential candidates eyeing the race, Edwards has gotten a lot of attention. He was an early hit with Democratic activists who saw him as telegenic, well-spoken — with a hint of a Southern drawl — and able to connect with voters.

"John has a great opportunity. He's done a great job as senator," said Rep. Bob Ethridge, D-N.C. "Everywhere he goes in this country North Carolina gets good press."

The last three Democratic presidents — Lyndon Johnson of Texas, Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas — have been from the South. The ability to win some Southern states to go with the Democrats' base of strength in the Northeast and West Coast is seen as a key to victory with both parties battling for states in the industrial Midwest.

Edwards grew up as the son of a textile mill employee, born in South Carolina but spending his teenage years in Robbins, N.C., and working in the mills during college breaks. He became a successful trial lawyer in Raleigh, winning personal injury cases against big companies and amassing a fortune of $14 million.

Edwards' personal wealth will help in building the massive war chest needed to run for president, but eventually he will have to choose between that race and trying to hold on to his Senate seat -- two fierce political battles analysts say this political newcomer won't be able to juggle at once.

Edwards would be up for Senate re-election in 2004, a factor that had to be weighed in making a decision on the presidential race. He told the Today Show that he would decide what to do about that race later.

Edwards served on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the Small Business Committee; the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and the Select Committee on Intelligence. Among bills Edwards introduced in the most recent Congress were various anti-terrorism measures, concerning biological and chemical weapons, airport and seaport security and the threat of cyber-terrorism.

He also introduced measures dealing with privacy, rural housing, health and crime. One bill called for providing grants to local police departments to ensure that cops accused of misconduct receive due process.

Edwards voted for the bill creating a Homeland Security Department and for a resolution authorizing force against Iraq. He also supported the USA Patriot Act and the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

According to the database run by the Center for Public Integrity, law firms were Edwards' top campaign contributors over the past five years, contributing over $2 million to his efforts.

Born in 1953, Edwards attended North Carolina State University and then went to law school at the University of North Carolina, where he met his wife. He graduated and they married in 1977.

They have had four children. Their first child, Wade, died in a car accident at age 16 in 1996. Their daughter Catharine is a student at Princeton. His other children are 2-year-old Jack and 4-year-old Emma Claire.