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Edwards May Use Bill to Jump-Start\Presidential Bid

But it is unclear if Edwards is simply following through on campaign promises or trying to build a political portfolio for a possible bid for the presidency.

Edwards is sponsoring the Bipartisan Patient Protection Act, commonly called the patients' bill of rights, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

In recent months several media outlets have speculated that Edwards is eyeing a run for the presidency in 2004.

But pundits point to the Democratic senator's lack of political experience as a potential liability. The former Raleigh lawyer was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998 without having held an elected office.

But in a recent issue of Time Magazine, McCain showered praise on Edwards. "A lot of charisma," McCain told Time. "His honesty becomes apparent."

Democratic political consultant James Carville, who worked on Bill Clinton's campaign and in the White House, also praised Edwards. "A real thoroughbred," Carville said in the Time article. "He's got the touch."

The Time article also speculates that Edwards is trying to make a mark for himself through the patients' bill of rights legislation.

Under the proposal, patients would be able to seek the advice of medical specialists, gain direct access to pediatricians, obstetricians and gynecologists, and go to the nearest emergency room without being penalized by their HMO.

Jerome Maddox, an assistant political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he thinks Edwards would make a solid presidential candidate but also pointed to his lack of political experience.

Maddox said the Democratic Party needs a candidate from the South in order to win an election.

"I do think (Edwards) is a viable future presidential candidate," he said. "He's from the South and already won a statewide election in North Carolina. He fits the bill."

But Maddox cautioned that Edwards' lack of experience might cause voters and his opponents to question his credibility. Maddox said Edwards, a former trial lawyer whose success allowed him to be the primary financier of his campaign, has good experience in the private sector but little experience in Congress.

He added that Edwards' recognition in Congress and visibility among voters will increase greatly if he succeeds at getting the patients' bill of rights passed.

But Barbara Allen, chairwoman of the N.C. Democratic Party, said Edwards' support for a patients' bill of rights is a sign that he is simply following through on his campaign agenda and doing what is best for North Carolina.

"He's just pushing his platform," Allen said. "(The bill of rights and a possible presidential bid) are two entirely different agendas."

But she did add that she hopes Edwards is seriously considering a bid for president. "I think he would make a wonderful president," Allen said.

Robert Gibbs, press secretary of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also said Edwards is a viable presidential candidate.

But he added that 2004 is a long way away.

Gibbs said a possible presidential run is something Edwards will have to consider on his own and with his family's best interest in mind.

"He is certainly a rising star among Democrats."

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The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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