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Sen. John Edwards Makes Official Announcement of Candidacy for President of the United States

Aired September 16, 2003 - 11:21   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The only breeze right now in Robbins, North Carolina is that generated by the hand claps for Senator John Edwards, who's now making his way through the crowd there. He is on his way to the podium. He has just been introduced by his wife. We expect at any moment, once he does take the stage, we will hear his official announcement that he is going to be a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Let's bring in our political analyst Bill Schneider, who is standing by, and we've been talking about this off and on all this morning, and Bill's been joining the conversation about this.

And, Bill, the first question that anyone's going to have about this is, why is this such a big do right now since pretty much everyone in the country's been assuming that John Edwards is going to running all along anyway?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. He first announced he intended to run back on January 2nd, so this is kind of deja vu all over again. But he's trying to get his campaign a new start. He's been in the debates and he's been campaigning all year, raising money, but he hasn't gotten very far. He's still in single digits in the national polls, not very prominent in either Iowa or New Hampshire. The latest poll in North Carolina shows that Bush would beat him in his own state.

He did make one key decision, which is not to exercise the option of running for re-election in North Carolina this year to his Senate seat. He's giving up his Senate seat. So he's stakes everything on this presidential race.

HARRIS: Speaking of key decisions, one decision that was made earlier this morning may have something to do with the numbers that John Edwards actually does end up getting, and is that decision made by General Wesley Clark to say that he is going to be entering the race. You know how these things work, Bill. Does John Edwards know about that announcement?

SCHNEIDER: If he didn't, he does now. And certainly it's been expected for some time. Wesley Clark will be the tenth Democrat, 10 little Democrats, to run in this Democratic field, and there's a lot of expectations and curiosity about General Clark. He was the supreme commander of NATO during the Kosovo war. He was very close to Bill Clinton. He's had conversations with Howard Dean. There's fascination with him, because he has a distinguished military record. He is a general. The country is engaged on a war on terrorism. Democrats need someone with military credentials. There's a lot of curiosity about General Clark.

But I'll tell you what's happening right now in the Democratic race that's really taking this kind of shape. There's Howard Dean, who's gotten real momentum this year, because he has a fervent base of highly partisan supporters who just adore him and his angry message against George Bush. And there's a movement to stop Dean. But it hasn't really found a candidate yet. Some of them want Lieberman , or Kerry or Gephardt, or some are looking at John Edwards. Some say maybe Clark is the guy. But the dynamic is of this Democratic race is Dean versus stop Dean.

HARRIS: Now we're seeing John Edwards there on the stage embracing his wife. And we expect any moment now that he will be taking the podium, and coming forward, and making this announcement and making his entry into the race official.

The question I've got for Bill Schneider as he's watching this along with us, is after this announcement, if we're going to be seeing anything different or hearing anything different coming from John Edwards?

SCHNEIDER: Well, John Edwards has fashioned his campaign as a populist campaign, and that's why he's there, talking about his blue- collar roots. He grew up in North Carolina. He was picked the first one in his family to go to college. He's a trial lawyer by background. That's how he made his fortune. But it is a self-made fortune; he didn't inherit it. Being a trial lawyer just drives the White House nuts, because Republicans and trial lawyers just do not get along, and so the White House has taken great pains to discredit John Edwards, because they don't like the idea of a trial lawyer, even potentially, being the president. That just irritates Republicans in the White House to no end.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning. And welcome to my hometown, Robbins, North Carolina!


EDWARDS: It is great to be home with family, my parents, my wife Elizabeth, all my children, and with my dearest friends. Thank you for giving me the life and for the example that you have set for me. Thank all of you for being here today. I have come home to stand in the shadow of the mill where my father worked, where I, myself, worked as a young boy, and where I learned the value of hard work and a hard day's work.

We're not far today from the post office where my mother worked, the church which is right over here, where we went to church every Sunday, and the high school where I played football and dreamed that I'd be the first person in my family to go to college.

I grew up in an American town, and I grew up with America's dream. I owe everything I have to the America that I grew up in. This is where I learned that a job is about more than a paycheck, it's about dignity, self-respect, self worth. This is where I learned that the simple promise of America is the enduring greatness of America, a better life for all who worked for it.


And so, this is where today, to make opportunity the birth right of every single American, I declare myself a candidate for president of the United States.


Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

America deserves a president who understands that the people of this country work, and the people of this country work hard and a president who will stand up for those people, someone who will stop at nothing to create opportunity for all the great people of this country. That's the promise of America, a fair shake for all and a free ride for none.

We want to live in a country where the promise of America is always kept and never broken. We want the America we believe in to be the America our children grow up in, where all children have the same opportunity that I had, the chance to live out their dreams and make the most of the talents God gave them. We want to live in an America that works for all of us. That's the America I grew up in. That is the America I believe in.


I have spent my life fighting my heart out for the kind of people that I grew up with right here in Robbins. As a lawyer for two decades, I stood with families and children against HMOs and insurance companies, standing up for folks who played by the rules against those who didn't. We fought those battles and we won, and I promise to fight for you with the same passion and energy that I fought for them.

I haven't spent most of my life in politics, which most of you know, but I have spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington.


You know, the truth is, folks from here in Robbins, they don't have lobbyists in Washington D.C. They don't have lobbyists working for them and fighting for them. They count on their government to protect them, to protect their interests, and they deserve a president who goes to work every day thinking about them, fighting for them, protecting them. That's the president that the people of Robbins need.


Well, I have never taken a dime from special interest pacts or Washington lobbyists. I have spent my life working for people against those special interests. I know this fight, I am ready for this fight, and we will win this fight.


And we deserve a president who's close to our people, not close to the lobbyists, who listens to our people because he knows them, because he works for them, a president who hearse them, even when they can't speak, when they can't speak because they've lost their job, because they're caring for a child, or just because the simple struggle to make ends meet leaves them with no time for anything else.

Well, George Bush's guiding principle is a twisted reflection of the American bargain. Instead of opportunity for all, special privileges for none. He's given us, opportunity for all the special interests.

HARRIS: We've been listening to Senator John Edwards here, as he makes his official entry into the race for the presidency of the United States. As we expected, in talking with our analyst Bill Schneider coming into this announcement here, John Edwards here drawing plenty of attention to his populous beginnings and his populous-themed message, saying he believes an opportunity is a birthright for every American.

Bill, now this is no doubt the kind of thing we'll be hearing from here on out. But is this the kind of message that John Edwards is expecting to get him out of these doldrums as he finds himself in now. As you said mentioned earlier, only single digits, registering support for him.

SCHNEIDER: Well, if the economy worsens or doesn't really improve -- and so far, over two millions jobs have been lost in this country -- that message may gain traction. He talked about being a trial lawyer, he's taken on the special interests -- the HMOs, the insurance companies. He described himself, in an echo of Al Gore's campaign, where he got more votes than George Bush in 2000 as a fighter for the people.

In fact, John Edwards is pretty close to Bill Clinton, and they've talked about his campaign. He's sort of modeling himself as a populist, the way Clinton did in 1992. And as you'll remember, in 1992, a bad economy, a populist message works. John Edwards hopes the same thing will happen this time.

HARRIS: Funny you should mention that. That's what I was commenting about to Daryn Kagan as we were listening to this speech. It sounds like what we heard from Al Gore the first type around. It will be interesting how that plays out this time.

Thanks, Bill. Bill Schneider in L.A.


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