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Edwards Formally Joins 2008 Presidential Race

With young volunteers in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward, Democrat John Edwards announced his campaign for president. Edwards helped this week to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
With young volunteers in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward, Democrat John Edwards announced his campaign for president. Edwards helped this week to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. (By Tracie Morris Schaefer -- Bloomberg News)

The announcement also highlighted the changing shape of political communication. Edwards had no prepared text, spoke briefly and took a few questions from reporters. But before that, he had declared his candidacy with a video posted through his campaign Web site on YouTube, with an e-mail sent overnight to supporters and with five interviews on morning television shows.

Edwards picked a traditionally slow news week to declare his candidacy, hoping to draw more attention to what is often a well-scripted ritual lacking in suspense. By moving early, Edwards also avoided being overshadowed by the anticipated entries of celebrities Clinton and Obama, who will make their intentions known in January.

Edwards begins his campaign well positioned to compete for the nomination. He tops public opinion polls of Democrats in Iowa, which will hold the first caucuses of 2008; retains a base in South Carolina, whose primary he won in 2004; and has built good relationships with organized labor in Nevada, which is scheduled to hold the second set of caucuses of the election season.

One question mark among the early states is New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary. Edwards finished fourth there in 2004, but aides say he has improved his standing there since that primary.

Another question surrounding Edwards's candidacy is whether he will be able to compete against Clinton and Obama in fundraising.

Edwards has been running steadily for president since he and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) lost to Bush and Vice President Cheney in 2004. He made his first post-election trip to New Hampshire in February 2005 and campaigned tirelessly for Democrats running in the midterm elections.

He set up a poverty institute at the University of North Carolina and, when Hurricane Katrina focused attention on the plight of the underclass in America, renewed his calls for a new commitment to eliminate poverty. He also campaigned on behalf of ballot initiatives calling for an increase in the minimum wage.

He sought to strengthen his foreign policy credentials -- a notable weakness in his first campaign -- through involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations. Asked Thursday about his national security résumé, Edwards said experience is no substitute for good judgment and cited the administration's record as evidence.

"We've had one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in American history," he said, pointing to Cheney and former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "They've been an absolute disaster by any measure."

Edwards, 53, made millions of dollars as a trial lawyer in North Carolina before entering politics in 1998. He won a Senate seat that year, defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth. He established a reputation as a quick study, a shrewd and tough questioner, and one of the party's rising stars -- prompting him to run for president after just four years in public life.

His 2004 campaign lagged for months but caught fire just before the Iowa caucuses, where he finished second to Kerry. He parlayed that success into a victory in South Carolina, and his performance in the primaries earned him a slot on the Democratic ticket.

After events in New Orleans on Thursday, Edwards flew to Iowa for a more traditional campaign rally in Des Moines, marking his 16th visit to Iowa since the end of the 2004 campaign.

At a town hall meeting, he fielded questions on energy, education, the deficit, Iraq and his past support for the war. "At the end of the day, I voted yes and I should not have," he said. "I'm the one who's responsible for that."

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