The former trial lawyer formally announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on Jan. 2, inviting heightened scrutiny of his qualifications and chances for success against a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls.
"The central question he's got to answer is why a first-term senator who, prior to this time, had spent his time as a personal injury lawyer should now be qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and president of the United States," Democratic strategist Susan Estrich said in a Fox News interview Monday.
After all, analysts note, trial lawyers nearly bottom out the list of beloved professions and are frequent targets in political campaigns.
Edwards' other Achilles Heel, analysts agree, is his lack of defense and foreign policy experience in the post-Sept. 11 world, though Edwards has served on the Senate Select Intelligence committee and recently set forth a defense policy agenda.
He enters a crowed field of possible-to-likely Democratic rivals, including three-term Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (South Dakota), former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (Missouri), former vice presidential candidate and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Sen. Bob Graham (Florida) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Thus far, polling of Democratic voters does not reveal a decisive favorite, other than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has said she is not running in 2004. But Edwards does not typically top the polls thus far.
More than a year before primary season, it's Clinton who placed first in a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, with Lieberman trailing in second place. Edwards placed sixth at four percent. In some earlier polls, it's Kerry who has filled the first or second slot, especially in the first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire.
Hoover Institution scholar Morris Fiorina calls Edwards a dark horse candidate but won't rule him out as the possible victor.
One thing Edwards has going for him, said Fiorina, is that he's a "new face, somebody different from the old ones who have been around the track a few times."
And Edwards is from the South. "Democrats basically have to crack the South to win," said Fiorina. "Gore didn't carry any southern states, and Edwards starts with a record that would make him competitive in at least some of the southern states."
Moreover, Fiorina thinks Edwards can spin his trial lawyer past to his advantage.
"As far as the trial lawyer thing, you'd think that's generally a negative," said Fiorina.
But with a patient's bill of rights likely on the congressional agenda this year and Edwards' list of sympathetic clients, "surely he can counter any attack...by pointing out some dastardly insurance company that screwed some people and a trial lawyer went and got them what they had coming," said Fiorina.
"I am proud of what I did as a lawyer," Edwards said on Monday. "I fought for kids and families in very difficult circumstances, where they were the underdog, where they were fighting against powerful forces on the other side, oftentimes big insurance companies.
"My job was to give them a chance," he continued. "They needed a champion, and I was their champion. And many times, I was the only hope they had."
But Martin Anderson, a former advisor to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, believes a candidate's brain trust of advisors makes a candidate able to assemble a plan and sell it to voters.
"Every successful person who's ever run for the presidency, whether it was [former President Bill] Clinton or Reagan or Bush, had built up years in advance a tremendous group of [advisors]," said Anderson. "If you don't have that, you cannot run."
"When Reagan ran in 1980, no one paid much attention, but we had 74 economists working for him," said Anderson. That included top American economists and policy advisors like George Schultz, Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman.
According to New Republic Associate Editor Michael Crowley, one rumored Edwards advisor is none other than Bill Clinton.
Edwards Wants to Present 'Clear Alternative' to Bush (Jan. 3, 2003)
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