July 8 — Sen. John Kerry picked John Edwards as his running mate Tuesday, calling on the Southern populist in hopes that his small-town demeanor and skill on the stump will invigorate Kerry’s bid for the White House.
The formal announcement came Tuesday morning at a rally in Pittsburgh after the Massachusetts Democrat phoned Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, to inform him of his decision.
“I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America, a man who has shown courage and conviction,” Kerry said of his choice.
For his part, the 51-year-old Edwards released a statement Tuesday morning expressing his gratitude at being chosen. He and Kerry were scheduled to campaign together Wednesday in Ohio before flying to six more states, wrapping up in North Carolina later this week.
“I was honored this morning to receive a call from Senator Kerry asking me to join his ticket,” Edwards said in the statement.”I was humbled by his offer and thrilled to accept it.”
In making his decision, Kerry passed over a bevy of other candidates, including Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. The pair were widely believed to be the leading alternatives to Edwards.
Kerry’s choice marked the end of a search that lasted about four months, during which Kerry was able to keep his decision secret until a few hours before the official announcement.
President Bush said Tuesday that Vice President Dick Cheney called Edwards to congratulate him and that he welcomed Edwards into the race.
“I look forward to a good, spirited contest,” Bush told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
Kerry’s choice pleased many Democratic leaders, who had been stumping for the Tar Heel in hopes that he could energize what has, at times, seemed to be a lethargic campaign.
“I have worked with John Edwards side by side and sometimes head to head,” he said. “I’ve seen John Edwards think, argue, advocate, legislate and lead for six years now. I know his skill, I know his passion, I know his strength, I know his conscience. I know his faith.”
The decision came a few weeks before the Democratic National Convention, when Kerry and Edwards are set to accept their party’s nomination.
Thad Beyle, professor of political science at UNC, said the early decision will win the ticket favorable media attention before the Senate begins debate on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
Now that he has been chosen, however, Edwards is almost certain to come under scrutiny.
He has proven himself a born politician during his few years on the national stage, winning his audacious first run for public office by defeating incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth in 1998 and lasting longer than anybody expected in this year’s primaries.
And he’s used his populist roots as the son of a Seneca, S.C., mill worker to great effect, bashing Bush by insisting that the president has created “Two Americas” — one for the rich and one for everyone else.
“He kind of brought a new perspective to what you do in politics,” Beyle said.
Furthermore, the Southerner could narrow Republicans’ large leads in some Southern states, particularly North Carolina — a state that hasn’t been carried by a Democrat since 1976, when Georgian Jimmy Carter was able to capitalize on the backlash from the Watergate scandal to defeat Gerald Ford.
On the other hand, Edwards is sure to be dogged by questions about his experience.
The former trial lawyer, who has spent only six years in the Senate, has left many wondering about his foreign policy experience and whether he could succeed Kerry in case of disaster — questions Kerry himself raised during the primary season.
For now, however, the questions are likely to be pushed to the side as the new ticket introduces itself to the nation.
“(Kerry) probably had had enough of the questions: ‘Who’s it going to be? Who’s it going to be?’” Beyle said. “So he probably said: ‘I’ve made that decision. It’s time to announce it.’”
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