Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) on Campaign 2000|
Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000; 4 p.m. EDT
As Vice President Gore worked through his final choices for running mate, the name of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was mentioned until the last minute. Edwards, who won his first elective office in 1998, is one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party. How close was he to becoming Gore's running mate? What are the national political ambitions of this telegenic lawyer? What will his role be in the upcoming campaign as Democrats also try to make up their five-seat deficit in the Senate?
Edwards was live online on Tuesday, Aug. 15 to talk about the Gore ticket, the convention and the Democrats' efforts to take control of the Senate. The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Good afternoon, Sen. Edwards, and welcome. You're at this convention with a unique perspective as someone who was often mentioned as a possible running mate. What's it like to be on the inside? What was involved in the process, and has it changed the way you view the campaign?
Sen. John Edwards: What happened was that I was originally contacted by Secretary of State Warren Christopher in late April to schedule a meeting in late May. We met for about 45 minutes in early May. Most of the conversation was general in nature. We discussed such issues as what characteristics Al Gore should look for in a running mate? He also asked me about some specific people. After that meeting I pretty much forgot about it. Then in mid to late June I received a call from Secretary Christopher to say that the vice president had narrowed his choices to five people at the time, and would I be willing to undergo a vetting process that is time consuming and intrusive. I went through that process providing large amounts of written material and then approximately three weeks ago I had a one-hour meeting with the vice president. I came away from the process with only the most positive feelings. The entire process was conducted with great dignity and I was treated with a great deal of respect.
Are you interested in any particular leadership role if the Democrats take control of the Senate in November?
Sen. John Edwards: The issues that interest me the most are education, health care, and campaign finance. I've been very involved in all of the floor debates on all of those issues. So I would be interested in any position on committees or floor leadership that would allow me to focus on the issues I am most interested in.
During the 1996 election, N.C. Democrats reelected Gov. Hunt, won every Council of State office, took back the state House of Representatives, strengthened the state Senate, and picked up 2 congressional seats.
The election's only Democratic disappointments were that they did not defeat Sen. Helms and that President Clinton and the DNC chose not to provide the resources necessary to contest the state despite internal polling data that indicated that N.C. was winnable for Clinton/Gore.
This year, N.C. Democrats are in a similar position. They are in a strong position to win the governor's race and every Council of State race. They also stand to pick up General Assembly seats and pick up Congressional seats.
Like Clinton in '92 and '96, Al Gore is in a great position to win in N.C. if he visits the state and spends money in the state. But Gov. Bush will surely win N.C. if the V.P. chooses to make N.C. a second tier state.
What are you and Gov. Hunt doing to make the case that N.C. is winnable for Gore/Lieberman?
Sen. John Edwards: I have personally told the vice president that North Carolina is winnable, but that it will require hard work and focus. I also know that Gov. Hunt has conveyed the same message to the vice president. I agree that the Gore campaign could win North Carolina but only if we do the work necessary to make that happen.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
I read that the DNC isn't distributing convention boxes of macaroni and cheese because it's a Kraft product; Kraft is owned by a tobacco company and they don't want anything to do with tobacco money. How do you reconcile this to tobacco farmers in your state? How do you serve your constituency in the face of stances like this?
Sen. John Edwards: The farmers of North Carolina are critically important to the rural economy of North Carolina, and also are vital to small communities all over the state. I have worked as hard as I can to provide support for these families who have farmed the land for generations. I must say that most of the farmers that I've spoken with believe strongly that we should do everything in our power to stop underage smoking, so I will continue to provide support for both North Carolina and American farmers while recognizing that it is critically important for us to take steps to aggressively stop underage smoking.
Chapel Hill, N.C.:
Are you speaking at the convention this week? Isn't it the least they could do after putting you through the stress of vetting for V.P.?
Sen. John Edwards: I am speaking at the convention. I am speaking at approximately 7 p.m. Eastern time. Thank you for the kind words. My speech will focus on why Al Gore has the leadership qualities to be president of the United States.
What role are you playing in helping other Democratic Senate candidates win this year so your party can overcome its five-seat deficit?
Sen. John Edwards: I have been actively involved in helping the campaigns of a number of incumbent Senators and I also have been involved in helping a number of challengers. For example, I have appeared at events with Chuck Robb, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mel Carnahan of Missouri, and others.
How's your baby girl, Senator?
Sen. John Edwards: Thank you for asking. Emma Claire is now just over two years old and she's doing wonderfully. She's a joy for all of us. Also, our new son Jack is now almost three months old and is also doing very well.
One of the things that Al Gore often gets criticized for was the sincerity of his 1996 convention speech in which he illustrated the evils of tobacco with a story about his sister's death from lung cancer. That came after telling North Carolinians that he was a proud tobacco farmer. How do you and other North Carolinians devise Gore's true position on tobacco? Is this something that still registers there?
Sen. John Edwards: Throughout his career in the Congress, Al Gore was always a strong supporter of American farmers. As you know, he has also been very aggressive in pursuing approaches to stop underage smoking. My impression is that he believes these two things can be accomplished at the same time.
Hi there Senator. I was just wondering, do you think that all of the talk of meaningful campaign finance reform is real or a lot of hot air? Also, do you think that it was wise for Democrats set up a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion and accept money from Hugh Hefner and his daughter? What sort of message do you think this sends?
FYI, the Democrats did not set up the fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion. It was sponsored by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) to benefit a Hispanic PAC. The DNC took away her speaking role at the convention and went out of their way to distance themselves from the event. The Gore campaign made a point of voicing its displeasure with the fund-raiser's location.
Sen. John Edwards: I think a lot of senators believe deeply in serious campaign finance reform. For example, I believe that money is a disease in our democratic process. Normal people have begun to believe that they no longer have any voice in their democracy, and as a result they don't participate in campaigns and they don't vote. It's critically important that we return power in the democracy to regular people.
Describe your professional and personal relationship with Al Gore? Are your families friends? Have you worked together on specific pieces of legislation?
Sen. John Edwards: My contact with Vice President Gore has been limited to campaigning with him on several different occasions. Also, my wife and I have had dinner with the Gores. My only professional contact with him has been in connection with either his political campaign or my political campaign. But, in that context, and in the vice presidential selection process, we have discussed many issues and I feel that I have a good understanding of his vision for America.
That was our last question today for Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Thanks so much to Sen. Edwards and to everyone who joined us.
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