Edwards launches presidential campaign
Democratic field includes Dean, Kerry
By Sean Loughlin
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Casting himself as a champion of "regular folks," Democratic Sen. John Edwards jumped into the 2004 race for the White House Thursday, criticizing the Bush administration as one run by and for "insiders."
Edwards becomes the latest Democrat to jump into what is becoming a crowded field of presidential hopefuls and is the only Southerner to do so.
A first-term senator from North Carolina, Edwards was elected to the Senate in 1998, defeating Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth.
"If the American people want a lifelong politician in the White House, that's not me," Edwards, 49, told reporters gathered outside his Raleigh, North Carolina, home.
A millionaire who made his fortune as a trial lawyer, Edwards stressed his own roots, noting his father was a textile worker and his mother held several jobs, including one in the post office.
"I want to be a champion for the people I have fought for all my life -- regular people," Edwards said, adding that his campaign would focus on bolstering the nation's security and strengthening the economy .
Edwards said he had filed papers to form an exploratory committee and he made it clear he is a candidate.
"I am running for president of the United States," he said. He said his campaign would provide an alternative to an administration "that's run largely by insiders and too often for insiders."
Edwards was sharp in his criticism of the Bush administration, saying it was beholden to special interests.
"He weakens clean-air laws because the energy companies want him to weaken clean-air laws," Edwards said. "His economic policies are focused on people at the top of the economic spectrum, not something that lifts up all Americans."
Speaking to reporters at his Texas ranch, Bush declined to talk about Edwards' candidacy, dismissing the Democratic maneuvering as "background noise."
"I've got my mind on the peace and security of the American people, and politics will sort itself out," Bush said.
In an interview with CNN, Edwards outlined some of his positions: He advocates the creation of a domestic intelligence agency, stronger security for U.S. borders and a more comprehensive domestic readiness plan in the case of another terrorist attack. On Iraq, he said he supports the use of military force to disarm Saddam Hussein.
"I'm a mainstream North Carolinian," Edwards said. "I think my views and values represent the values of most people in this country."
Edwards was considered a possible running mate for Vice President Al Gore in his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2000. Gore eventually ran with Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut.
The Democratic field of likely 2004 presidential candidates already includes Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, both of whom have formed their own exploratory committees.
Other possible Democratic contenders include Lieberman, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Daschle meets with advisers
A source close to Daschle said the Democratic leader would head to South Dakota this weekend to confer with friends and advisers about a possible presidential campaign. He met with some advisers in his Capitol office Tuesday. A decision from Daschle on whether to form an exploratory committee, this source said, can be expected within the next few weeks.
Should Daschle decide to run for president, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has been lining up support to replace him as Democratic leader in the Senate, according to several congressional sources. One source close to Reid said he has the private assurances of more than 40 Senate Democrats that they would support him should the leadership post become open.
Last month, Gore announced that he would not seek launch another presidential bid, saying he feared his campaign would simply be viewed as a rematch of his 2000 contest against George W. Bush.
Edwards was born in South Carolina and grew up in Robbins, North Carolina, a small town in the Piedmont.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, have had four children. Their son, Wade, died in a traffic accident in 1996.
CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley and White House Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.