In his Senate years and primary campaign, vice presidential candidate John Edwards has emerged as a politician willing to push beyond conventional foreign policy ideas and introduce imaginative proposals that often do not meet with swift approval.

In one typical case, Edwards in January called for the United States to draw up a "freedom list" that would identify dissidents jailed for political or religious expression in an attempt through "name and shame" to persuade other countries to free political prisoners. He also proposed linking U.S. aid to progress on human rights and democracy -- a practice that, if implemented, would almost certainly disqualify many key U.S. allies, such as Egypt and Pakistan.

In the summer of 2001, when much of the Republican and Democratic policy community was obsessed with missile defense, Edwards urged more attention to terrorism. The North Carolina senator had such limited luck pitching an OpEd article on terrorism to major newspapers that the piece, warning of poor cooperation among federal and local law enforcement, ended up in the weekly Littleton Observer, circulation 2,230 -- four weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Edwards's approach and style are in contrast to those of running mate John F. Kerry, who after years steeped in foreign policy has recently become more of a pragmatist whose positions shy away from bold ideas -- in some cases differing from Bush administration policy only by degrees.

Republicans are hoping to make Edwards's foreign policy positions, which have received little scrutiny until now, a key issue in the fall campaign. They charge that his credentials are relatively thin, with accomplishments limited to his position on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and proposed legislation on counterterrorism.

Even some Democrats concede that he did not flesh out his own broad national security platform until the primaries -- and even then sometimes tried to dodge foreign policy questions or interviews or provide general answers in early debates.

For all the energy and voter appeal he may have added to the campaign, Republicans say Edwards will be particularly vulnerable when he goes head to head with Vice President Cheney, a former defense secretary and White House chief of staff. Some are already salivating over the prospects of the fall debates.

"If you liked the [1988] Quayle-Bentsen debate, you'll love the Cheney-Edwards debate," said Ed Rogers, Republican political consultant, referring to vice presidential candidates Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen. "The contrast with Cheney just couldn't be more stark on this issue. Who's going to be tougher on terrorists who want to kill you and your family? Cheney or Edwards? It is just going to be laughable."

But Democrats are coyly confident that Edwards, who consistently played well among voters during the primary debates, will surprise the electorate. "Bring it on," said Richard C. Holbrooke, U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration and now a senior foreign policy adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

"I would say Vice President Cheney is a man of the Cold War generation who still thinks in Cold War terms. He is knowledgeable but rigid. He shows no ability to adjust to new 21st century realities," he said.

Over the past three years, Edwards has scrambled to organize crash tutorials, roundtable discussions with foreign policy analysts at his Georgetown home, trips to hot spots abroad and meetings with foreign leaders to prepare for his presidential campaign, aides and advisers said. Democrats note that Edwards's foreign policy experience matches or exceeds the credentials of Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter when they were nominees.

"He understood in the post-9/11 world his national security credentials would be challenged from the get-go," Holbrooke said, adding that Edwards tried to avoid being pulled too far left during the primaries. "He was very thoughtful in trying to find a balance in national security priorities and how to present them effectively" as former Vermont governor Howard Dean appeared to be running away with the nomination.

To gain first-hand foreign experience, Edwards toured Israel and Egypt in 2001. As part of a tour to South and Central Asia, Edwards traveled to Afghanistan in 2002 shortly after the U.S.-led war to oust the ruling Taliban and destroy Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda camps. He also visited Britain and twice visited NATO headquarters, in 2002 and 2004. He has met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, campaign aides said.

Edwards surprised participants in 2002 meetings with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and European foreign policy experts, said William Drozdiak, executive director of the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund who helped organize the Brussels sessions.

"He was hungry for some foreign policy exposure and experience," Drozdiak said. "I was fairly skeptical. I expected a lightweight, but I came away with a favorable impression. He asked a lot of smart questions and actually listened, which is not a noteworthy quality of the Bush people."

On key national security issues, Edwards has increasingly staked out a centrist and occasionally hawkish policy, making terrorism his top focus well before Sept. 11, 2001, and pressing for a global push on democracy before Bush made it a cornerstone of his Middle East policy.

Because he had been working on legislative proposals on counterterrorism, Edwards introduced a broad bill within a week of the Sept. 11 attacks to tighten seaport security, including provisions for special Coast Guard units, the use of sea marshals and inspection of high-interest vessels. A month later, he co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to improve preparedness against chemical and biological terrorism. He also proposed legislation to hinder cyberterrorism. None of the three made it to the floor for a vote, but elements were included in subsequent legislation.

In one of his more controversial ideas, Edwards introduced a bill to create a domestic intelligence agency, like Britain's MI5, on grounds that law enforcement and intelligence should not be in the same agency -- an idea that has met stiff resistance from the FBI. Campaign advisers predict Edwards may be ahead of his time, since the Sept. 11 commission report due out this month is certain to criticize the intelligence community -- and may even make recommendations on this issue, said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former CIA general counsel who has advised Edwards.

"If there is another terrorism attack, the question will be brought to the fore: Why don't we have what everyone else like the Brits and Germans have? He's put out a thoughtful bill that should be the basis for discussions," Smith said.

On the world's deadliest weapons, Edwards staked out "the most comprehensive and far-reaching" position of any other Democratic candidate, according to a survey by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And on Iraq, the North Carolina senator was a staunch supporter of the Bush administration's argument that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, co-sponsoring the resolution authorizing the war against Iraq. "We know he has chemical and biological weapons. . . . We know that he's doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal," Edwards said on the Senate floor on Oct. 10, 2002.

On Capitol Hill, Edwards won particular attention for his role in the Sept. 11 joint inquiry when he used his experience as a trial lawyer to press law enforcement officials to admit that their failure to understand the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act prevented them from issuing a warrant that could have gained access to information about two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and the Hamburg cell of al Qaeda that planned the attacks. He came off as a tough questioner who was occasionally hostile when he did not receive clear answers, congressional intelligence staff members said.

In dealing with intelligence matters generally, Edwards brought a "healthy level of skepticism" to the job, a congressional staff member said. "What happens to new members is that they're like kids in a candy store. It's 007 whiz-bang stuff," he added. "But Edwards struck me as a member who's been in a lot of courtrooms and knows when he's being snowed. A lot of the members are lawyers but haven't seen the inside of courtrooms in decades and it shows. He asked tough questions."

On one issue, Edwards and his running mate take strikingly different positions: how to promote democracy. While Edwards outlines ambitious programs and goals, Kerry has stuck largely to promoting free trade, public diplomacy and reinvigorating the Middle East peace process -- steps not far from the Bush administration formula.

In contrast, Edwards outlined a "strategy for freedom" in January that included establishing a "democracy caucus" at the United Nations to punish nations that fail to embrace democratic reforms to exclude them from powerful positions.

He also proposed an "organization for security and cooperation" in the Middle East, modeled on the former Helsinki process that pushed for freedom in Eastern Europe. The Bush administration later promoted a similar idea that was watered down after Arab protests. Edwards also suggested linking Russia's membership in the Group of Eight wealthy nations to improving democratic practices -- a position Kerry rejected during a recent interview with The Washington Post.

Vice presidential candidate John Edwards, greeting supporters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has an approach and style that are in contrast to those of his running mate.