John Edwards for President?: Newsweek Cover Story: Edwards The Road Warrior

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Newsweek Cover Story: Edwards The Road Warrior

According to this cover story in Newsweek that can be found online already, Edwards' background is worth reading, especially if you think that Edwards is putting on an act when he talks about the middle class and the poor in America and wants to fight for equality. This excerpt shows that what Edwards stands for is what he has always stood for, even when he didn't have the wealth and success he has today:

With the economy now headed into a recession, and Edwards the only candidate who has been talking about the concerns of the middle class all along, here's why Edwards can win in Iowa:

For months, Edwards has been rounding up support in the state's rural precincts where the front runners have paid less attention. While Obama and Clinton have drawn crowds in the thousands in places like Des Moines and Ames, Edwards has been winning over people in tiny towns like Sac City (population: 2,189). That's important, the strategists say, because under Iowa's arcane caucus rules, a precinct where 25 people show up to vote gets the same number of delegates as a place that packs in 2,500. In other words, even if he loses to Obama and Clinton in the state's bigger cities, he can still win by wrapping up smaller, far-flung precincts that other candidates have ignored. "The bulk of our support is in small and medium counties," says Jennifer O'Malley, Edwards's Iowa state director. O'Malley says Edwards has visited all 99 counties in the state; the campaign has so far trained captains covering 90 percent of all 1,781 precincts. Rural voters are sometimes reluctant to caucus, so the campaign has been enlisting respected community leaders to encourage first-timers to get past their apathy or fear.

This could be wishful thinking from an ailing campaign. But it's worth keeping in mind just how wrong the media echo chamber can be when it comes to predicting winners and losers. At about this time four years ago, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was the press-anointed darling who could seemingly do no wrong in Iowa. Dour John Kerry was scorned by reporters as the should-have-been who had blown it and couldn't possibly win. But on caucus night, Kerry wound up the victor—and Dean wound up screaming. Reporters were left to wonder what they had missed. One story the talking heads may be missing this time: just how badly John Edwards hates to lose.

The desire to get ahead—to win—is no small thing for Edwards. He was raised in the depressed town of Robbins, N.C., where his father, Wallace, worked in a now long-gone textile mill. It's a biographical detail the candidate mentions so often in speeches and campaign ads that it can sometimes border on self-parody. Yet his father's story is what Edwards's campaign, and political career, is all about. His dad worked his way up in the mill and was promoted to supervisor. But without a college degree, there was only so far he could rise. "He heard his mother and I talk about it at the dinner table, so he knew what I was faced with," his father tells NEWSWEEK. Money was scarce. Wallace was determined that John and his younger brother and sister, Wesley Blake and Kathy, would attend college. He set an example of self-improvement. He took classes offered by the mill, and tuned in to the education channel on TV early each morning when the station aired lessons in statistics and probability.

Tall and good-looking—and he knew it—John Edwards was a popular student and a star football player, skinny but fast. His high-school friend John Mashburn remembers Edwards as a leader. "In a little redneck town, he was different," he says. There was still racial tension in Robbins in the early 1970s, and black students were sometimes mistreated. In protest, several of them once held a sit-in. Edwards persuaded his white friends to join in. "Johnny got a lot of the athletes, myself, our girlfriends … he was instrumental in encouraging us," Mashburn says. John Frye, another high-school friend, says it was a gutsy thing to do. He "stuck his neck out," Frye recalls. "There was a price to pay in how some folks treated him after that. We had people who didn't embrace desegregation even though it had been a bridge crossed years earlier."

And how he ended up at NC State:

At NC State, Edwards was himself again. He still couldn't afford the tuition, so he worked nights at UPS for about $8 an hour unloading boxes from 18-wheelers. He was broke but happy, and didn't outwardly envy his better-off friends. "He wasn't the type that would say, 'Man, I came from a poor background'," says his old dorm suitemate John Huffman. "He knew what he had to do and what his situation was, and that was it." Edwards's friends teased him about his long, blond-streaked hair and surfer looks. He would "kind of fluff his hair up," Huffman says. "We'd cut up with him about being a pretty boy." Huffman says Edwards "came across as rather cocky at times. I would even throw in 'arrogant,' but always in good fun."

Edwards was also a driven student who was obsessed with making top grades. He resolved to keep college costs down by taking summer school and graduating in three years. Everyone knew what Edwards had in mind for his future: he was going to law school. He was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In class, he fell for Elizabeth Anania, a smart, outspoken student four years his senior. "She was just a ball of fire in the classroom," recalls Patrick Oglesby, who was editor of the law review. Elizabeth was known as a fierce classroom debater. "If she's right, she's not going to back down," says Oglesby. If Edwards was smitten with her, Elizabeth might not have been quite as impressed with him, at least at first. She got better grades and made law review, while he didn't. It was "a blow to him," she tells NEWSWEEK. "He had some uncertainty about whether he could match up." But, she says, by the time they graduated, he ranked higher in the class.

Edwards has said that, even as a kid, he dreamed of being a lawyer. He watched every episode of "Perry Mason" and "The Fugitive." When he was 11, he penned an essay titled "Why I Want to Be a Lawyer," in which he wrote, "I would like to protect innocent people." Edwards tells crowds he got into the law for just that reason: to help the little guy against moneyed interests. But friends at NC State remember it differently. He talked about being an "attorney representing businesses," says Bill Garner, a boyhood friend and college roommate. "He wasn't focused at that point … on the liability side. He was more focused on being a corporate attorney." Edwards says he did, in fact, stumble into those kinds of cases. "It was really more of a happenstance than anything else," he says. He went to work for a firm "looking to start a civil trial practice … I happened to get a case or two, really through luck, worked very hard on them, was successful, and it sort of snowballed."

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