SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, who announced this week that he is creating an exploratory committee preparatory to seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, brings a political resume to the race that sets him apart from the rapidly growing list of his rivals. Unlike the rest of the Democratic field, Mr. Edwards's political seasoning is on the light side. The North Carolina senator says his lack of Washington experience will be an important calling card when he is out seeking Democratic support in the early primaries next year. He contends that his 20 years of experience as a successful trial lawyer, along with a fresh vision and clear ideas on where to take the nation, make him an ideal candidate to represent "regular folks." The freshman senator's political inexperience is not, however, limited to Washington. Before his victory over conservative Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth in 1998, Mr. Edwards was every bit the inexperienced outsider even in the politics of his own Tarheel State. At first blush, that isn't a compelling background to bring to the demands of the American presidency in the 21st century.
Yet it would be a mistake to take Mr. Edwards's entry into the race lightly. His candidacy, while different from those of the more seasoned current and prospective Democrats in the presidential chase, may not be the long shot some may think. At this stage, Mr. Edwards is the sole Southern candidate of a party whose last three victorious presidential candidates hailed from the South. He also won his first election in a Republican state. Mr. Edwards is widely regarded as smart, good on the stump and graced with a charm and style that should go a long way in the kind of retail politics that candidates have to pursue in party primaries. He also brings more than another pretty face and a personal fortune to the race. He has spent the run-up to this week's announcement delivering a series of speeches spelling out where he stands on the issues.
Of course, polished positions on homeland security, education, the economy, national security and world affairs are not a fair substitute for the experience that comes with hands-on involvement with those issues. While there have been other presidents who entered the Oval Office with little foreign policy experience, those hailing from statehouses -- Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the current Bush -- did come with years of experience tussling with domestic issues and politics. Mr. Edwards has put his four years in Washington to good use, working on legislation such as the patients' bill of rights, bioterrorism and homeland security countermeasures, and a bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs. But his legislative record on its own is hardly a sufficient basis for a presidential run. It now falls to John Edwards to show that substance and stamina are behind his candidacy, that a specialist in personal-injury lawsuits also has the personal grounding, ideas, political skills and support to handle the most powerful job in the world.