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Edwards Prepares to Take Office

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WASHINGTON — A political newcomer is about to take his place in North Carolina history. Democrat John Edwards will be sworn in Wednesday as the state's next senator.

John Edwards has learned many lessons since the election, and one of them is who his friends are. The first to wish the senator-elect well was Jesse Helms.

"I think [Helms] has been completely willing to help me any way I needed help," Edwards said. "He called me the morning after the election. He was extraordinarily gracious. He, in the past, has been very kind to my family on personal matters. He's just been everything you'd ever want him to be."

The stakes are high for Edwards and his colleagues right off the bat. An impeachment trial is likely to be first on their agendas.

"My job is to be impartial, not to prejudge, to be open-minded, to not be partisan and to do what I think is fair and right."

"He knows what going on," says Abe Holtzman,N.C. Statepolitical science professor. "This is not a sweet little novice coming into the Senate saying, 'Oh my, I just got elected, what am I going to do?'"

Edwards did not take PAC money during the campaign, and experts say he will be freer than most to vote his conscience. But he is a freshman Democrat who needs his party for key committee assignments and high-profile support.

"I assume he'll want to be re-elected," Holtzman said. "He's a young man, which means he might have a very good future in other offices - maybe even the presidency a number of years from now."

Edwards says a lot of people are talking to him about impeachment. He says he has not yet made up his mind on the issue.

"I think that there's a great likelihood that a proceeding, a trial of some kind, will begin," Edwards said. "How long it lasts, and exactly the way it takes shape, I think is unpredictable."

Edwards has been busy getting ready for his new job. Over the past two months he has set up two offices; one in North Carolina, the other in Washington. He also hired 30-to-40 people to staff them.

"The hard task is not finding people," Edwards said. "The hard task is selecting from all these really good, well-qualified people which ones fit best with what you want to do."

Edwards has had to keep up the same pace he did while campaigning. He's traveled back and forth to Washington for briefings on everything from taxes to national defense to social security. But he says his focus is clear.

"I'm interested in knowing, first and foremost, what the people here in the state believe and feel about things, issues that matter to them," Edwards said. "But I'm always interested in information, whatever the source is. And ultimately, I'm just going to cast an independent judgement about what I think is in the best interest of North Carolinians."

The senator-elect hosted a reception for his supporters Tuesday night. He will attend a caucus for the Democratic Party senators before being sworn in Wednesday.