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John Edwards 

by Pia K. Hansen

Born to a middle-class Methodist family in Seneca, S.C., in 1953, John Edwards grew up in Robbins, a small town in North Carolina. His mother, Bobbie, ran a small business and also worked in a post office; his father, Wallace, was a textile mill worker for more 35 years. Edwards was the first member of his family to attend college.

He graduated from North Carolina State in 1974, earned a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill three years later and married in 1977. Edwards' first child died in a 1996 accident; his eldest daughter is a student at Princeton University; the household includes a two- and a four-year-old.

Edwards worked as a successful trial lawyer for 20 years with several firms, arguing for patients' rights and reaping record jury verdicts. He published a book, Four Trials, recording his most famous lawsuits. In one case, Edwards fought on behalf of Valerie Lakey, a girl who was injured in 1993 after sitting on a faulty swimming pool drain. He was awarded a public service award from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America for his work. He also successfully represented Ethan Bedrick, born in 1992 with cerebral palsy, against an HMO which had denied the daily physical therapy that Bedrick's doctors had prescribed.

Edward's success in law led to a career in politics; in 1999, he was elected by North Carolina voters to the U.S. Senate.

In His Own Words -- "You and I can build the America we believe in and make our country work for all of us again. Because right now -- under this president -- there are two Americas: one for the powerful insiders, and another for everyone else. We all know that the first thing we have to do is to get rid of George Bush. But that isn't enough. We must take on the hard issues, and working together, we can change America... This is the America you and I can build. Because we don't believe in George Bush's America... But we have to remember that this election is ultimately about something much bigger than ending George Bush's presidency... it's about a new beginning for America: a new beginning for our schools, our economy, our working middle class, and our leadership role in the world."

Thinking Big: the Economy -- Edwards speaks fervently about a variety of issues and is especially vocal on supporting education and health care reform. He wants to raise the salaries of teachers who work in poor districts and give more scholarships to students studying to be teachers. In health care, Edwards promises to support community clinics. But the backbone of his platform is his economic plan. He proposes giving 10 percent tax cuts to companies that keep jobs in the United States, raising the minimum wage, strengthening labor laws and extending unemployment benefits. Edwards promises his tax system won't benefit the rich and that he'll set up a tax credit for first-time home buyers, match funds in retirement accounts, cut corporate subsidies and close corporate tax loopholes. He promises to reduce capital gains taxation for 95 percent of Americans and raise capital gains taxes for the wealthy living off investments.

Bush-bashing -- "In a budget that gives an average of $100,000 in tax breaks to those who make over $1 million, President Bush has asked two groups of Americans to sacrifice: those who have already sacrificed the most, our veterans, and those who have the least to give, the poor, the unemployed, and the children. This budget won't just bankrupt our country; it's morally bankrupt, too."

Position/Strategy -- The John Edwards campaign has raised about $14.5 million to date, but his campaign has already gone into debt. Still, he's done surprisingly well so far. He shocked the nation with his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, and fervently took advantage of his new position, which has earned him greater media coverage. Edwards appeals to a wide range of voters because of his well-designed image: a nice mix of genteel Southern comfort and bleeding-heart activist. He's the only Democratic candidate from the Deep South, and he claims that makes him uniquely qualified to beat Bush in November. Still, he failed to defeat Kerry in either Tennessee or Virginia this week.

Edwards votes more often than not for legislation that helps farmers, women, people of color and small businesses. He's an advocate of patients' rights and gun control. Edwards co-sponsored the Patients' Bill of Rights.

One of the biggest criticisms of Edwards is that he has been outspoken in his support for the Patriot Act; he is the only Democratic candidate to do so (other than Lieberman, who has since dropped out of the race). Edwards voted to go to war in Iraq, supported the president's $87 billion Iraq restructuring plan and is vocal about strengthening U.S. security at home.

Publication date: 02/12/04
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