Person of the Week: John Edwards

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Ready to Run: Edwards announces his candidacy

And then there were three. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the latest addition to the Democrats' ever-widening pool of presidential candidates, declared his intention to campaign for his party's nomination this week, ending months of speculation and adding his particular brand of Southern progressivism to the mix. He officially joins Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, both of whom declared their candidacies before the holidays. Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and House minority leader Richard Gephardt are expected to announce in the next several weeks whether they will run.

Does he have a chance? Yes — as much, anyway, as any other Democrat who challenges the still overwhelmingly popular current President. Since Al Gore bowed out of the picture, the ranks of Democratic hopefuls have swelled, and although Daschle and Gephardt have best name recognition the odds are considered fairly even among the potential candidates. Edwards, while relatively new to the political scene and lacking Kerry or Daschle's national reputation, is nonetheless appreciated among Democratic party leaders for his easy, appealing presence, both on television and in person.

Edwards, 49, worked as a trial lawyer before entering politics, and when he moved to Washington in 1998, he left behind a very successful — and wildly lucrative — practice in his native North Carolina. He has since built a reputation for moderate political views and a self-described commitment to defending "regular people," a theme he sounded repeatedly in his formal announcement Thursday morning. Considering Edwards' personal wealth — estimated at $14 million — that line could prove a tough sell, and might, along with his former career, provide fodder for Republican attacks, but Edwards downplays his riches, emphasizing instead his hardscrabble youth as the son of a textile mill worker. He also, perhaps sensing a potential weak spot, proudly defends his experience as a trial lawyer, telling NBC the morning of his announcement, "I spent most of my adult life representing kids and families against very powerful opponents, my job was to give them a fair shake."

As the press and the parties mull Edwards' announcement, much has been made of a recent political tradition: southern Democrats from conservative southern states winning election to the White House. Clinton, Carter and Johnson were part of this largely successful strategy, which seems to help deflate Republican charges of Democrats' rampant liberalism. Edwards fits neatly into this mold.

While he has not decided whether he will also run for his Senate seat in 2004, Edwards isn't wasting any time staking out his positions. He appeared on CNN Thursday afternoon criticizing the Bush Administration's anti-terror policies, saying the United States is not prepared for another domestic attack. He is also on the record opposing the President's plan to make tax cuts permanent, and is in favor of forming a new intelligence agency.

It's not all policy statements, though. Edwards is getting down to the real business of a presidential campaign. He'll host his first official fundraising event Saturday evening.