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Inside Politics

Edwards draws GOP fire

Democrats praise Kerry selection


THE MORNING GRIND
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John Kerry names John Edwards his running mate.

CNN's Candy Crowley on John Edwards' selection.

CNN's Bill Schneider on the push for a "VP bounce."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Kerry's choice of Senate colleague John Edwards as his running mate drew swift criticism Tuesday from some Republicans and widespread praise from Democrats.

At the White House, President Bush said he welcomed Edwards to the contest.

Asked whether he agreed with the Republican National Committee's characterization of Edwards as a "disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal," Bush said, "I look forward to a good, spirited contest."

In a statement, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot called Edwards "a committed liberal and spirited messenger for his party," accusing him and Kerry of voting "against our troops on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq" -- a reference to last year's $87 billion supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq.

Both Democrats supported the 2002 congressional resolution that authorized Bush to go to war with Iraq. But Kerry has said he voted against the supplemental spending bill because it failed to address health care for reservists and was to be paid for with borrowed money at a time when the Bush administration was cutting taxes for wealthy Americans.

Edwards said he opposed the measure to make a statement that the war was going badly and Bush "needed to change course."

For their part, Democrats lavished praise on the selection and the new Democratic team.

"This is an exciting ticket," said Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who had been on Kerry's short list of VP contenders. "These are two very able and qualified individuals."

The GOP also released a torrent of e-mails highlighting issues in which it said the two men had been at odds during the Democratic primaries.

It also released a television ad showing Sen. John McCain of Arizona praising Bush during a recent speech -- a spot apparently intended to remind voters that Kerry had courted the GOP decorated war veteran as a possible running mate.

Mitt Romney, the Republican governor of Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, called Edwards "not a bad choice for his second pick."

"This is a fellow who has been a trial lawyer, so he's pretty glib," Romney said. "On the other hand, it's an individual who a few months ago John Kerry was saying didn't have the experience for this job. So I think lack of experience will be an issue."

But Democratic officials said they can point to numerous instances in which McCain, who opposed Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, made critical comments about the president as well.

McCain also has had complimentary things to say about Edwards, writing on the back cover of the Democrat's book "Four Trials" that the senator "reveals the strength of his own character and gives the reader a look beyond a political biography into the heart of a good man." (Profile of John Edwards)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, also had kind words for Edwards.

"John is a very good senator, and I think will make a very strong vice presidential nominee, and I wish him the best of luck," Frist told reporters camped outside his Capitol office.

Pressed on whether Edwards -- a first-term senator -- has enough experience to be a heartbeat from the presidency, Frist paused and said, "I think so. John Edwards is a man of high character, strong integrity and will be a very strong vice presidential candidate."

Frist denied there is a connection between the GOP leadership's decision to schedule a floor debate this week on class-action legislation and Edwards' selection to the Democratic ticket.

Frist added that the GOP does not plan to use the debate as a forum to beat up on Edwards, a former personal-injury trial lawyer.

But a senior GOP leadership aide said the debate is tailor-made to focus criticism on Edwards' record. "This is an issue John Edwards has based his career on," the aide said.

The Republican bill would steer more lawsuits into federal courts, where punitive damage awards are typically lower. The legislation also would seek to crack down on "forum shopping" in which lawyers try to have cases heard in state courts with records of large jury awards.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, issued a statement attacking Edwards' selection.

"Is it any wonder why common-sense medical liability, class action or asbestos reform has been repeatedly blocked by Democrats in the Senate, when John Kerry picks a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer as his VP candidate?" Cornyn asked.

Democrats praise selection

The Kerry campaign urged Democrats to hold their fire to Republican criticism. Democratic officials said the campaign wants to keep the voices of the ticket front and center Tuesday, saving responses to GOP attacks from party leaders for Wednesday. (Poll: Kerry leads among minority voters)

But many Democrats released statements Tuesday, praising Edwards and Kerry.

"Together, John Kerry and John Edwards will fight for an America that is better for all of us, stronger than ever, and united once again," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, said in a statement.

"John Kerry has made a great decision for the party and for the American people, and has once again shown his tremendous leadership and conviction."

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a possible finalist for the vice presidential slot, said Kerry notified him of his decision early Tuesday.

Vilsack said he spoke to Edwards on Tuesday morning. "I told him I looked forward to his debate with Vice President Cheney," he told reporters on the New Jersey coast, where he was vacationing with his family.

"I'm excited about this team. I really am. I mean, these guys are great guys," Vilsack said. "They are going to be passionate. They are going to bring this message of hope and opportunity, a stronger America -- a better and more respected America -- to the rest of this country. They're going to make us feel proud."

Kerry's fellow senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy, called Edwards an outstanding choice.Interactive: CNN analysts on why Kerry chose Edwards

"It's a ticket of strength; it's a ticket of hope; it's a ticket of opportunity," Kennedy said. "It's a ticket for victory, and I couldn't be happier."

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who ran against Kerry and Edwards in the primaries, called Edwards "a smart choice." In a statement, Dean said the ticket "will bring energy, commitment and a new vision for America."

Former Vice President Al Gore, the party's presidential nominee in 2000, said a Kerry-Edwards ticket "combines John Kerry's courage and record of outstanding leadership and John Edwards' inspiring struggle on behalf of middle-class Americans and those working to reach the middle class."


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