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Senator John Edwards of North Carolina arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport yesterday evening with his family in tow: (from left) his wife, Elizabeth, son Jack, and daughters Emma Claire and Cate.
Senator John Edwards of North Carolina arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport yesterday evening with his family in tow: (from left) his wife, Elizabeth, son Jack, and daughters Emma Claire and Cate. (Globe Staff Photo / Dina Rudick)

Edwards gets the nod

Page 3 of 3 -- Experts said the choice of Edwards does not guarantee a victory in any state, Southern or otherwise, even North Carolina. But he may convert that state, as well as Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas, into battlegrounds that divert the Bush campaign's time and attention somewhat from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the other assumed swing states.

And in Midwestern states, said experts, Edwards's up-by-the-bootstraps populism may play well, offsetting Kerry's Eastern elitist aura and helping reel in undecided working class voters, who culturally lean toward the GOP but continue to struggle somewhat economically.

"The choice of Edwards is an indication that Kerry does not plan to write off the South," said a Wake Forest University political scientist, Jack D. Fleer.

A poll in May for the Winston-Salem Journal found Bush with 48 percent support and Kerry with 41 in North Carolina. But with Edwards on the ticket, it was a virtual tie. Without Edwards, the poll found, Bush would win among independent voters. But with Edwards, Kerry surges ahead in this group.

Kerry publicly and privately questioned Edwards's political judgment and seasoning during the primary campaign. "When I came back from Vietnam in 1969, I don't know if John Edwards was out of diapers then," Kerry said in January.

And Edwards didn't shy from challenging Kerry over sensitive issues, such as the Massachusetts senator's position on the war in Iraq. "That is the longest answer I have ever heard to a yes-or-no question," Edwards quipped during a debate in February after Kerry struggled with a question about whether he felt responsible for US casualties because he voted for the military action.

The two disagree on the death penalty, with Kerry favoring it in some circumstances and Edwards opposing it.

On the Bush tax cuts, Kerry favors a repeal of all cuts benefiting people earning over $200,000 annually, while Edwards proposed repealing the cuts for anyone earning over $240,000.

The North American Free Trade Agreement sparked some of their harshest exchanges in the final debate of the primary campaign. Kerry voted for it, but Edwards campaigned against it during his Senate run in 1998.

In that context, Edwards seems to not measure up to at least one of the five criteria that Kerry established in a memorandum he sent to the team that conducted his search for a vice presidential candidate, which said a running mate must be compatible "on every level."

In his speech yesterday, Kerry offered a new assessment of Edwards, citing the campaign and their six years together in the Senate.

"I've seen John Edwards think, argue, advocate, legislate, and lead for six years now. I know his skill; I know his passion; I know his strength; I know his conscience; I know his faith," Kerry said. "John Edwards is ready for this job."

Girding for an expected debate with Republicans over national security issues, Kerry also cited Edwards's service on the Senate Intelligence Committee and said, "He shares my unshakable commitment to having a military that is second to nobody in the world, but also to restoring old and rebuilding new alliances that make America stronger."

Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, sought to draw a distinction between the primary battle and the looming general election campaign. "I think that when you are competing in the primaries, you are thinking about getting through the primaries," she told reporters flying with the candidate to a campaign event in Indianapolis. "When you are looking for a running mate who would be a good partner, that's a different calculus."

In recent weeks, Edwards has been fitting in briefings on international security, global trouble spots, and other foreign policy issues to deepen his own expertise in preparation for a possible invitation by Kerry to join the ticket, according to Democratic Party officials.

Last month he spoke about Iraq, China, and the world economy at the annual Bilderberg conference in Italy, an assembly of US and European leaders and intellectuals, "and received a rare round of applause after his remarks from an audience that usually gives polite applause after everyone has spoken," said former US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, who advises Kerry on national security.

"He was quite dazzling and in command of the issues," Holbrooke said in a telephone interview from Lisbon yesterday. "He's clearly far more qualified in national security today than Governor George Bush was four years ago."

Raja Mishra of the Globe staff contributed from Boston. Patrick Healy contributed from Rehoboth, Del. Glen Johnson can be reached at 

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