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Edwards Jumps Into Race For Democratic Presidential Nomination

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Sen. John Edwards, a multimillionaire triallawyer from the South and relative newcomer to Washington,announces he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination,saying he wants to be "a champion for regular people."

Edwards chose an appearance on NBC's "Today" program to say hewas setting up an exploratory committee with an eye to getting intothe 2004 race. He joins Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts andVermont Gov. Howard Dean in a contest which has become morespirited in the wake of former Vice President Al Gore's decisionnot to run in 2004.

Edwards' announcement came as no surprise since the first-termsenator began moving quickly into position in the last severalweeks. He gave a major address in Washington in mid-December,speaking out against President Bush's tax-cut policy and saying thenation needed a new intelligence agency.

Edwards said he will offer a dramatic alternative to PresidentBush's White House as somebody who comes from a humble background,whose father worked in a North Carolina textile mill, and whounderstands the needs of ordinary people.

"The president has a different kind of administration that isrun to a large extent by insiders and for insiders," Edwards saidin a telephone interview with The Associated Press following hisNBC appearance. "We need to give the American people thatchoice," he said.

Edwards said he doesn't think his relatively short time inWashington will be a disadvantage and could actually provebeneficial because he feels closer to the needs of ordinarycitizens like those in his home state.

"I'm more than happy to be judged on the basis of my ideas,"said Edwards, adding that when people are considering "leadershipin a time like this, the things that you look for are a clear viewof America's role in the world, strength of conviction, goodjudgment and a willingness to ask hard questions."

At a news conference later Thursday in Raleigh, Edwardscontinued to emphasize his humble beginnings, saying he presents astark contrast with other candidates both Democrat and Republican.

"If the American people want a lifelong politician in the WhiteHouse, that's not me," he said.

He said he believes Americans "are waiting for, are hungryfor" someone with a vision for the country that differs from thatof the Bush administration. "I would say I have exactly the kindof experience we need in the White House," he said, once againdescribing himself as someone who's close the regular people.

The 49-year-old senator said he will spend the next couple ofdays talking publicly about his political plans. He also said hewill be talking to the people of North Carolina about why he'spursuing the presidency and asking for their ideas on toppriorities that should be mentioned in a national race. State pollshave suggested the public is lukewarm about Edwards' presidentialambitions.

While Edwards said it was important for the Democraticpresidential field to have a Southern voice, he quickly added "themost important thing is for the campaign to focus on what's goodfor regular people."

His background as a trial lawyer should help his effort, nothurt it, Edwards said.

"I'm very proud of what I spent my life doing," he told NBC."I spent most of my adult life representing kids and familiesagainst very powerful opponents, my job was to give them a fairshake."

On Wednesday, Edwards revealed his plans to some 200 friends andsupporters invited to his home in North Carolina.

Asked why voters should support him, Edwards told NBC, "BecauseI will be a champion for regular people in the White House everyday."

Edwards said he will traveling around his home state to letvoters there know why he is exploring a national candidacy, but didnot say he's decided whether he will run for the Senate in 2004.

"I'm running for president, I'm setting up this campaign to runfor president," said the senator, who added that "I'll make thedecision later what to do about my Senate seat."

Edwards invited nearly 200 guests to his home to tell them whathe was about to tell the world - that he plans to seek thepresidency in 2004.

The first-term senator from North Carolina told guests at a NewYear's Day party that he would form an exploratory committee for apresidential run, said Walter Dellinger, a former U.S. solicitorgeneral who attended.

Guests at the party Wednesday said Edwards indicated hiscampaign would focus on civil rights issues.

As Edwards spoke to his guests, a loud cheer went up. Inaddition to interest on the part of Daschle, Gephardt andLieberman, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida has indicated he will decidethis month whether to run.

Edwards is "the only real Southerner, he's a new face and hedoesn't have any baggage," said Rufus Edmisten, a former NorthCarolina secretary of state and attorney general who attended theparty Wednesday.

Edwards has spent months making the rounds at Democratic functions in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

The son of a textile mill employee, Edwards was born in SouthCarolina and spent his teenage years in Robbins, N.C. He became asuccessful lawyer in Raleigh, winning personal injury cases againstbig companies and amassing a fortune of $14 million.

"John Edwards is running for president to give Americans a choice.He's going to stand up for regular people while the Bush administration will stand up for the wealthy and the influential," said Walter Dellinger, a former U.S. solicitor general who teaches law at Duke University.

Wednesday, Edwards told reporters outside his house that his family has been uppermost in his mind as he considered whetherto run.

"I've been thinking about North Carolina and the nation and what effect it's going to have on my family," he said as his twoyoungest children clung to his hands. "There is nothing more important in the world to me than my family."

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