By MIKE BAKER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 1, 2007; 3:19 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In his time off between presidential bids, Democrat John Edwards courted Wall Street financial gurus and Main Street labor leaders.
But when it comes to the money backing his second campaign, the wallets of wealthy attorneys who propelled the former trial lawyer's first run for the White House still open more than most. More than half of the Edwards donors who listed their occupations said they are attorneys, and they have given seven times more than any other profession, according to an Associated Press analysis of campaign finance data.
By comparison, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama _ Edwards' top Democratic rivals, who both have histories in the courtroom _ have raised about 15 percent and 18 percent of their individual donations from attorneys, among those who list their occupation on campaign finance reports.
"If you aren't drawing new contributors, the chances are you're not drawing new voters," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart. "To the degree that Edwards' base remains very refined and coming from one part of the community, he'll probably find the election ahead very challenging."
Edwards advisers have long played down the money chase. They have consistently noted the campaign is well on its way to raising the $35 million they say is necessary to compete in the early primary states, including Iowa, where Edwards has consistently placed at the tops of the polls.
In the first six months of the year, Edwards raised $23 million. But without the roughly $7 million collected from donors identified as attorneys, his numbers would fall closer to that of lower-tier candidates, such as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd. Edwards already trails Clinton and Obama by $35 million to $40 million in total funds raised.
"John Edwards dedicated his life to fighting for people whose voices aren't always heard, and we're proud his former colleagues in the legal community recognize his willingness to fight the tough fights and consistently win," said Edwards spokeswoman Colleen Murray.
Edwards, who made millions as a personal injury trial lawyer, isn't alone in tapping a core constituency for campaign cash. Republican Rudy Giuliani is getting strong financial support from his home state of New York, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is drawing many contributions from the Mormon community.
Of the more than 25,000 individual donations to the Edwards campaign accounted for in finance reports _ many small donors aren't individually recorded _ 8,400 didn't name their occupation. About 6,400 identified themselves as attorneys.
Jim Finberg, an attorney with San Francisco-based Altshuler Berzon LLP, said he supports Edwards for his ideas, not his resume, citing the candidate's policies on health care, Iraq and the environment. He also said Edwards' message has matured in the past four years.
"If he were a school teacher and had the same views, I'd support him just as much," said Finberg, who gave Edwards the maximum _ $2,300 for the primary and $2,300 for the general election.
Attorneys like Finberg helped keep Edwards' campaign viable in 2004, when the first-term North Carolina senator with little political experience failed to win the nomination but earned a spot on Sen. John Kerry's presidential ticket. In that election, he raised roughly $9.3 million from attorneys, who made up about 55 percent of individuals who listed their occupation on finance reports.
"It's not a secret that John Edwards was a trial lawyer and gets a lot of money from trial lawyers," said Matt Bennett, a Democratic strategist who co-founded Third Way, a Washington-based think tank. "He's moved beyond that as the identifying figure. He's worked hard to create an identity that includes lawyers, but is also much broader than that."
Bennett said Edwards has struggled to pick up new cash because Clinton and Obama have locked up so many donors. He also said Edwards' primary campaign theme of poverty has a relatively small voting constituency with even fewer donors.
The Edwards' campaign has repeatedly pointed to the small donations it has collected from shallow-pocket voters and $15 fundraising events dubbed "Small Change for Big Change." In announcing their updated fundraising numbers at the beginning of July, Edwards' campaign advisers said more than 100,000 individuals had donated in the first six months of 2007 and that 93 percent of all donations were less than $100.
About three-fifths of Clinton's primary donations, on the other hand, came from maxed-out contributors. Obama's campaign counted 258,000 individual donors.
"We're far more concerned about receiving grass-roots support from people who actually want to change America for the better than from federal lobbyists who are very happy with the status quo," Murray said. "That's why John Edwards is the only candidate in this race who hasn't taken a dime of money from PACs or lobbyists."
Obama has vowed to refuse such money for his presidential bid. Clinton has not.
The premier names on Edwards' fundraising reports are almost identical to those from his first presidential campaign. Many benefactors list some of the nation's largest law firms as their employers, including several donations from his former law partners at Kirby & Holt.