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Candidate Profile from Congressional Quarterly

John Edwards (D) of Raleigh
  • Born: June 10, 1953, Seneca, S.C.
  • Education: North Carolina State U., B.S., 1974; U. of North Carolina, J.D., 1977.
  • Military Service: None.
  • Occupation: Lawyer.
  • Family: Wife, Elizabeth; two children.
  • Religion: Methodist.
  • Political Career: No previous office.

A boyish-looking trial lawyer who has now been transformed into North Carolina's newest senator, Edwards is nothing if not a prototype politician for the New South.

A Democrat who is tough on crime, in favor of the death penalty and an advocate of local control of education, Edwards pulled enough conservative votes to unseat incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth in one of the nation's most closely watched races.

But the Raleigh resident also embraced such core current Democratic rallying cries as saving Social Security, protecting the environment and enacting a "patient's bill of rights" that would put new federal regulations on managed-care medical insurance plans.

The mixture of conservative and liberal philosophies served him well during the campaign, insulating him against Faircloth's charge that Edwards was a liberal trial lawyer he has had considerable success pressing civil lawsuits who could not be trusted.

Running for political office for the first time, Edwards seized upon a sound strategy for connecting with pieces of the state's fractured electorate. It is a strategy he might be able to put to use with his Senate colleagues. In North Carolina, candidates must appeal to well-educated workers and researchers in the booming Research Triangle and fast-growing urban centers like Charlotte. But to win, they also must gain votes from the state's tobacco belt and rural areas, where people tend to embrace a deeply entrenched conservative outlook.

Edwards promised to serve those constituencies by focusing on the basics: preventing crime by "supporting the death penalty" and by denying "foreign aid to drug-exporting nations." He vowed to strengthen education by putting "education dollars directly into the classroom," a stance that comes directly from the Republican handbook.

Edwards also stressed the environment, calling for vigorous enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other major environmental laws and for making "polluters pay to clean up the pollution they create."

But Edwards also pledged to be flexible. He energized North Carolina voters by promising to be a populist and, according to one analyst, by "not saying he is going to Washington with a bunch of programs in mind."

Asked by the Charlotte Observer to compare himself to Faircloth, Edwards said: "He's an old-style, lifelong politician, and I'm a political outsider. And I come to the issues from that perspective."

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