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Senator John F. Kerry waved to a group of photographers at the rim of the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9.
Senator John F. Kerry waved to a group of photographers at the rim of the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9. (Globe Staff Photo / Dina Rudick)

On the trail of Kerry's failed dream

Page 8 of 16 -- Kerry's frenetic use of his cellphone was never more apparent than during the vice presidential search in May and June, as he called scores of friends for advice. His first choice was Senator John McCain of Arizona. But by late spring it was clear McCain preferred to hug fellow Republican George Bush on the GOP campaign trail than join the Democrats.

To bolster his national security credentials, Kerry's supporters urged him to turn to retired General Wesley K. Clark or Richard A. Gephardt, a former House minority leader. But Clark was relatively untested, and Gephardt carried a different risk -- the odor of political failure.

According to aides, Kerry believed Gephardt was the politician most qualified to step into the president's shoes. He had been in the US House since 1977 and was Democratic leader for seven years. He couldn't be pegged as soft on defense; Gephardt had stood alongside Bush in the Rose Garden after helping craft the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

But Kerry and aides worried that after two failed presidential runs and his longtime inability to recapture the House for Democrats, Gephardt would be considered past his prime. And with the campaign still struggling to find its footing, Kerry believed he couldn't risk a disappointing vice presidential choice, aides recalled.

Playing it safe also meant ruling out Governor Thomas J. Vilsack of Iowa, who was untested in national politics.

Over and over, Kerry kept circling back to the man who clearly wanted it most: Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. During the primaries, Kerry had held the junior senator in low regard: At one point, a Globe reporter overheard Kerry chortling over the idea that the former trial attorney was running for president before he'd even finished one term in the Senate: "And people call me ambitious!" he exclaimed. On another occasion, Kerry speculated that Edwards could not even carry his home state for him in November.

But polls indicated that he was the runaway favorite among Democratic voters. He had been tested in an arduous primary contest and had shown surprising political skills as the last major rival to Kerry. And Edwards, with his son-of-a-millworker biography and passionate rhetoric about an economic divide creating "two Americas," offered an appeal to the middle class that the Brahmin-bred Kerry lacked.

Edwards had mounted a vigorous campaign to secure the number two slot. No sooner had he quit the presidential race than he hit the trail for Kerry. And on March 11, when Edwards invited his fund-raisers to Washington to thank them for their support, he took the unusual step of inviting Kerry. Meeting at The St. Regis hotel, Edwards appealed to his donors to support the presumptive nominee.   Continued...

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