Working-class boy destined for political stardom

EVEN as a working-class kid in a tiny Southern mill town, young Johnny Edwards displayed an infectious smile and sunny outlook that were destined to take him far.

Edwards, a multimillionaire lawyer raised in North Carolina, was considered a rising political star as soon as he arrived in Washington five years ago.

“Persistently optimistic,” is how his wife, Elizabeth, describes him.

“Losing’s not in his vocabulary,” says his father, Wallace Edwards.

Now, as John Kerry’s chosen running mate, John Edwards has the opportunity to spread his can-do message on behalf of the Democratic ticket. And he has the challenge of overcoming criticism that as a first-term senator he lacks the credentials for such a position.

Edwards, at age 51, is known as a skilled speaker and politician. He made it on to Al Gore’s shortlist for a running mate in 2000. He brushed aside questions about whether he has the experience for a presidential ticket, saying his working-class roots give him all the seasoning he needs.

“The experience I have is the right kind of experience,” he said last year as he campaigned unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination. “I do see things through the eyes of most Americans. I don’t think staying in Washington for decades strengthens your ability to do what needs to be done.”

Edwards turned 51 last month and was named “Sexiest Politician” by People magazine.

The native of Seneca, South Carolina, has always seemed like a young man in a hurry. Soon after his 1998 election to the Senate, Edwards was making a name for himself in Congress.

His lawyer’s background was useful in helping senators navigate the Clinton impeachment hearings. And he won early praise for helping push a patient’s rights bill through the Senate, though it never won final passage.

Edwards entered the Democratic presidential race with much fanfare at the start of 2003, and held open the possibility he would run for re-election to his Senate seat in 2004. But by September of 2003, Edwards decided he would not run for re-election, betting his political future on the presidential race - although some viewed him all along as more likely a vice presidential contender.

Edwards took time to find his campaign voice, but his upbringing in tiny mill towns of the Carolinas combined with rhetorical skills developed in the courtroom helped to make a compelling case to voters in states such as Iowa, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

Edwards won only the South Carolina primary during the early weeks of the campaign, but his skills on the trail and his message of “Two Americas” excited voters, especially independents and moderate-leaning Democrats.

Edwards grew up the son of two mill employees in Robbins, North Carolina, then went to college and law school in North Carolina. Edwards and his wife lost their teenage son Wade in 1996 when high winds swept his Jeep off a highway. They had a surviving daughter, Cate, and had two more children, Emma Claire and Jack.

Biographical Highlights

Edwards grew up in the small North Carolina town of Robbins, where his father worked in a textile mill and his mother ran a small store.

Edwards was the first in his family to go to college.

In college, he opposed the Vietnam War and Nixon.

After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in textile sciences, he went to law school at the University of North Carolina.

There at the University of North Carolina he met his wife-to-be, a law student four years his senior. They pursued legal careers and had two children, Catharine and Wade.

Upon graduating, he moved to Tennessee to join former Republican Governor Lamar Alexander's law firm.

In 1981, he returned to North Carolina, to the politically well-connected Raleigh law firm of Wade Smith, a former Democratic Party state chairman.

He won his first multi-million dollar verdict in 1984, which he followed the next year with a$6.5 million verdict for a six-year-old girl who'd suffered brain damage at Pitt Memorial Hospital - at the time, the largest verdict in state history.

In 1990, he was the youngest member inducted into The Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group of the nation's top 100 trial lawyers.

Edwards’ son Wade died in 1996 when the car he was driving flipped.

Setting a record for North Carolina, Edwards won a $25-million jury award in 1997.

Edwards accrued over $45m judgments or settlements during his career.

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