Edwards Scooped by His Web Site

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 27 -- Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina scooped himself Wednesday when advisers testing his campaign Web site posted the news that he is running for president in 2008. The posting came a day before Edwards's planned formal declaration of candidacy in this city's devastated Ninth Ward.

There was no secret about Edwards's presidential campaign intentions. The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee has been running hard for two years, and campaign officials have been at work for more than a week on final arrangements for the official launching.

But the pre-announcement of the candidacy on the Edwards Web site -- which was online only briefly but was nonetheless, officials said, noticed by the Associated Press -- caught everyone in the campaign by surprise.

"What happened was, apparently, they were testing the Web site," said Jennifer Palmieri, Edwards's spokeswoman. "I guess, somehow, when they were testing it, AP happened to catch it."

Officials said they had always intended to post the announcement on the Internet on Wednesday night, in advance of Edwards's scheduled announcement early on Thursday. Edwards had also planned to send an e-mail to his supporters before speaking to the cameras from New Orleans.

The sequence of events highlighted the many ways in which candidates now seek to draw attention to presidential campaign announcements, attempting to maximize their audience through the various media platforms for what are well-scripted events.

Even while doing some volunteer work Wednesday afternoon for Orelia Tyler, a New Orleans resident whose home was devastated by the floods of Hurricane Katrina, Edwards taped a statement that aides planned to post online in time for his formal announcement.

Even though it was accidental, the announcement on the campaign Web site quickly spread across the Internet. By early Wednesday evening, Edwards's entry in Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, noted: "On Dec. 27, 2006, he announced his entry into the 2008 presidential race."

Edwards chose New Orleans for his announcement to highlight his interest in the issue of poverty, which has been his focus for most of the past two years. He has been to Louisiana numerous times since Katrina hit and recruited 700 college students to join him here in the spring to volunteer their time, helping clean out and rebuild destroyed homes.

He also picked the week between Christmas and New Year's Day to announce his candidacy in large part because he and his advisers thought it would attract more attention during what is traditionally a slow news period. But the death of former president Gerald R. Ford was by far the dominant news on Wednesday and probably will continue to be for several more days.

Edwards issued a statement mourning the death of the 38th president.

"President Ford was a true leader -- he made decisions based on what he believed was right, not what was politically expedient," the statement said. "He called on us to never lose faith that we can change America."

He said Americans could honor Ford's memory by "lifting ourselves above partisan politics and acting with the courage and conviction of our ideals."

Thursday's declaration of candidacy will be relatively low-key, with Edwards planning to make a brief statement outlining his reasons for running and then taking questions from reporters. He plans to leave New Orleans in the early afternoon for an evening rally in Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucuses, and he will hold a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Friday.

Edwards, 53, was a successful and wealthy trial lawyer. He did not turn to politics until 1998, when he was elected to the Senate. He spent one term in Washington before deciding not to seek reelection. His 2004 presidential campaign started slowly but caught fire just before the Iowa caucuses. He finished second to the eventual Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).

He won only one primary, in his native South Carolina, but his skills as a campaigner and his performance in the primaries prompted Kerry to select him as the Democrats' vice presidential nominee.

He joins two other declared Democratic candidates -- Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) -- while several others, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), are expected to announce their candidacies in January.

Although Clinton and Obama have attracted the most attention, Edwards begins his campaign well positioned to challenge for the nomination. He has maintained considerable strength in Iowa, building on his success there in 2004, retains a base of support in South Carolina, and has developed relationships with organized labor in Nevada, which is scheduled to hold the second set of presidential caucuses in 2008.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company