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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
Profiles of Vice President Cheney, Vice President Nominee, John Edwards
Aired October 2, 2004 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I am Betty Nguyen here at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" begins in just 60 seconds, but first, a check of the day's top stories.
Several U.S. air strikes overnight in Fallujah. Iraqi hospital officials report nine dead and a dozen wounded, including some children. But U.S. military sources said one of the precision sites targeted a sight linked to terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and insisted only terrorists not civilians would have been killed.
And Mount St. Helens may not be finished just yet. Here is a live picture. Not too bad right now, but scientists say seismic readings taken after yesterday's eruption suggest pressure is building up inside the mountain once again. Scientists called yesterday's eruption a pick up, which still managed to destroy a couple of tracking stations on the dome. We'll have a live report from Mount St. Helens in our next hour.
And in Washington, hundreds of peace activists, veterans and military families taking part in a somber march from the Arlington National Cemetery to the White House. This is a live look at that march. Some participates in the so-called Trail of Mourning, carrying card board coffins to mourn those killed in Iraq. They're demanding support for the wounded and calling for an end to the war.
More news coming up in 30 minutes. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" begins right now.
ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, the No. 2 man in the White House, his fingerprints are everywhere.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This White House has been shaped by Dick Cheney from top to bottom. He came in as the consummate man of Washington, a person with Congressional, White House and business experience that George W. Bush lacked.
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ANNOUNCER: He was a chief architect behind the war with Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is easily called the Bush Doctrine is actually something that Dick Cheney has been working on for more than 10 years.
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ANNOUNCER: In his youth, he got a wake up call from his high school sweetheart to change his reckless ways.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could see a person who was going through a period of raising hell and didn't give a damn about anything.
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ANNOUNCER: From small town Wyoming to inside the beltway. The man some call the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, Dick Cheney. Then, he went from small town boy to big-time attorney.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He became the benchmark against which other trial lawyers were measured.
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ANNOUNCER: He jumped onto the political fast track and landed in the U.S. Senate.
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WADE SMITH, FRIEND: I remember thinking, oh my goodness, that's not wise. John needs to get his feet wet.
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ANNOUNCER: Now he's John Kerry's No. 2.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest advantage that Edwards brings is his youthfulness and his energy.
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ANNOUNCER: From a dusty mill town to the campaign trail, John Edwards' unconventional rise to power. The stories of the No. 2 men on the presidential ticket now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Vice President Dick Cheney is the ultimate insider, working behind the scenes at the White House on everything from the war in Iraq to the economy. But recently he's been very visible on the campaign trail and, at times, very controversial. And he will be back in the spotlight on Tuesday when he squares off against his Democratic rival in the first and only vice presidential debate of this election. Here is Jonathan Mann.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mention Dick Cheney and the first question is not so much who is he, but where is he? Over the course of his 40 year career, the vice president has been just over the shoulder of some of the key players in American government. In the '60s, there he was in the Nixon White House as an aide to Donald Rumsfeld. In the '70s, as Gerald Ford's chief of staff, leading Congress as minority whip in the '80s, ordering troops into Kuwait as secretary of defense in the '90s and now he's right behind President George W. Bush. Though some say he's really front and center.
JAMES CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: On the issues that matter the most, I think, Dick Cheney is the most influential and powerful person in the White House.
J. MANN: As one of the primary architects of U.S. foreign policy, Cheney was the loudest voice calling for the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the war with Iraq.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we simply sit back and operate by 20th century standards with respect to national security strategy in terms of how we're going to deal with this, we say wait until we're hit by an identifiable attack from Iraq. The consequences could be devastating for the United States. We have to be prepared to prevent that from happening.
J. MANN: Now despite the violence and turmoil of post-war Iraq, Cheney is sticking to his guns.
JOHN NICHOLS, AUTHOR, "DICK: THE MAN WHO IS PRESIDENT": The remarkable thing about is that even now, long after the invasion and why the United States is still mired in the trauma of Iraq, I would argue, Dick Cheney refuses to let go of many of the theories that have been broadly disproven or at least discredited, the Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that it had close ties to al Qaeda. Again and again, these notions have been discredited and yet, Dick Cheney continues to go on television, go out in public settings and express them.
JAMES THOMPSON (R), 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: As the vice president has said, there were contacts. They may be in possession of information about contacts beyond those that we found. I don't know. That wasn't any of our business. Our business was 9/11. So there is no controversy, there is no contradiction, and this is not an issue.
J. MANN: On one point, there is no debate. Vice President Dick Cheney is a lightening rod, a hero to conservatives, apolitical villain to liberals. It's an odd place to be for a man who's made a lifetime of playing behind the scenes supporting roles.
KEN ADELMANM, FORMER DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY: I think bosses throughout Dick's life, including President Ford and now President Bush, have really appreciated his discretion, his good judgment and his view that I'm here to help you, I'm not here to see my face in the paper and I'm not here to get on television. I'm not here to do any of that. I'm here to help you.
QUESTION: Congressman, can we talk to you just a second?
J. MANN: So how has the low key Cheney been able to climb through the ranks in a city where star quality is the key to success? Friends and colleagues say the answers lie out west, with Cheney's roots. He was born in Nebraska on January 30, 1941. But home to Richard Bruce Cheney has always been a small, quiet town in Wyoming, nestled between scenic mountains, prairies and oil refineries.
JOE MEYER, WYOMING SECRETARY OF STATE: Casper was typical 1950s. Your doors were unlocked. You could stay out late and not worry about the consequences. You could walk two blocks out of town and see pheasant and turkeys. It was a different era with a different mindset.
J. MANN: Netrona County High School became the center of life for Dick and he made friends quickly.
MEYER: A group would take my Plymouth convertible out and we'd tie a rope to it on an irrigation ditch which was about five miles west of Casper. We would drive up and down the road and hop down there with some boards on our feet and we'd just water ski.
J. MANN: Friends say Dick didn't much like the spotlight, yet he was senior class president, star halfback and co-captain of the football team, and eventually boyfriend of the school's homecoming queen. Lynn Vincent (ph), the pretty blonde at the top of their class caught Dick's eye.
MEYER: Lynn was a straight A student. They would flinch if I said this, undoubtedly smarter in an I.Q. sense, than Dick was.
J. MANN: As graduation neared, Lynn was college bound with a full academic scholarship. Dick was just an average student with no university prospects of his own until he went to visit Lynn at her after school job and met her boss.
NICHOLAS LEMANN, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": He would spot promising lads in the senior class at the high school in Casper and kind of talk to them and talk to Yale and arrange for them to go to Yale.
J. MANN: Dick Cheney needed those strings pulled. His grades and his family's lack of finances would have kept him out of the Ivy League under normal circumstances. The leap from small town Wyoming to the wealthy patrician community of Yale was overwhelming.
FMR. SEN. ALAN SIMPSON, FRIEND: It was just a disaster, you know. He didn't fit.
J. MANN: He told his friends he was having a hard time adjusting to the life of fraternities and privilege that surrounded him and he missed having one of his biggest motivators nearby.
MEYER: He had a deep love for Lynn and when they were apart, when he was at Yale, she was at Colorado College. I know they missed each other tremendously.
J. MANN: Already not the best student, his grades suffered and he was asked to leave the school for a semester or two. Dick returned to Wyoming and took a union job laying power lines. It wasn't the best time for Dick Cheney.
SIMPSON: You could see a person who was going through the period of raising hell and not paying attention and didn't give a damn about anything.
J. MANN: He was arrested twice for drunken driving and after re- enrolling at Yale, his dismal grades forced the school to dismiss him for good.
When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, Dick Cheney gets an ultimatum that changes the course of his life.
SIMPSON: She said, you know, Dick, if this is all you're going to do that would be very unfair. You would be treating yourself badly.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
MANN (voice-over): By the age of 21, Dick Cheney had dropped out of Yale, had several brushes with the law and was working a dead-end job in Wyoming. One thing going for him was his high school sweetheart, Lynn Vincent. But they were on very different paths.
SIMPSON: He worked out on the power lines, you know, out in the wind and the rain and she wasn't about to hook up with him.
JONATHAN J. MANN: Lynn gave him an ultimatum.
MEYER: I've got to believe it was his deep-seated love for Lynn; he didn't want to disappoint her, that certainly gave him some backbone to keep working as hard as he did.
SIMPSON: You finally light a fire in yourself. You figure why am I drinking like I am, why am I doing this?
J. MANN: Nineteen sixty-four was the turning point. Finally committed to changing his life, Cheney married Lynn and went back to school at the University of Wyoming at Laramie.
MEYER: He got into political science and it just captured his imagination. It was unbelievable. J. MANN: This new passion for politics landed Cheney an internship in the Republican side of the Wyoming state legislature. In 1968, Cheney got a job with the governor of Wisconsin, so the Cheneys moved to Madison and got full scholarships at the University of Wisconsin, a hot bed of student protest at the height of the Vietnam War. Enrolling at the school gave Cheney one of his five draft deferments and it allowed me to stay at home with his growing family.
Politics was a natural fit for Cheney. He was becoming confident and enterprising. When Donald Rumsfeld was chosen by President Nixon to head up the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969, Cheney sent him an unsolicited memo on how to handle his confirmation hearings. The bold move got him a job.
Throughout the next several steps of his career, Rumsfeld would take Cheney along as his deputy. This steady rise through the ranks of government reached its peak when, in 1975, President Gerald Ford made 34-year-old Dick Cheney the youngest White House chief of staff in history.
MEYER: It was something that he truly loved. He loved the politics. He loved the debate. He loved the discussion.
J. MANN: One year later, Dick Cheney's stint in the White House would be cut short. Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, leaving Cheney jobless and at a crossroads. For the first time, Cheney's own political ambitions surfaced. And though he had grown comfortable with the fast-paced rhythms of Washington, the down home twang of Wyoming called and he decided to run for a seat in the heavily Democratic U.S. Congress.
ADELMAN: Running in a primary for a Republican seat is the lowest of the low, the lowest form of life, except for paramecium. And so to go from chief of staff to running for the nomination for Republican congressman in Wyoming was, as they say in "Hamlet," "oh what a falling off there was."
J. MANN: Just weeks into the campaign at the age of 37, Dick Cheney's three pack a day smoking habit, poor diet and high stress jobs caught up with him. He had his first heart attack. Cheney refused to give up. He had his wife and daughters hit the campaign trail while he was in his hospital bed. He even made a written plea to voters.
MEYER: "I see the error of my ways. I'll never have another cigarette again. I will exercise. I really do want to be your congressman."
J. MANN: The people of Wyoming sent him packing back to Washington as their new congressman.
THOMAS MANN, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: He built friendships within the body and saw himself moving, over time, up the leadership ladder.
J. MANN: By 1988, his congenial, easygoing ways got him all the way up to minority whip. But all the while Cheney was amassing a voting record more conservative than Newt Gingrich or Trent Lott. Cheney voted against the Equal Rights Amendment, against busing to desegregate public schools, against abortion even in cases of rape or incest, against a holiday for Martin Luther King.
ADELMAN: His voting record was a shock because people assume that if you're going to be real conservatives you're going to be real mean and have a lousy personality. And what Dick Cheney showed is that you can be real nice, real smart, have a wonderful personality and still be conservative.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, good afternoon.
J. MANN: In 1989, after 10 years in Congress, the White House came calling once again when John Tower, the nominee for defense secretary, was rejected for drinking and womanizing.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Dick Cheney is a trusted friend, an adviser.
J. MANN: The Bush administration needed a candidate who would win easy approval and they thought Cheney fit the bill. And despite some controversy surrounding his lack of service in Vietnam, Dick Cheney became the 17th secretary of defense with a unanimous vote. As Pentagon chief, Cheney maintained his trademark style -- tough, low key, in control. And two years into his term, when Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait, the master strategist got the chance to strut his stuff on the world stage.
Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, Dick Cheney's radical philosophy plays a major role in the second Gulf War.
CARNEY: But when George W. Bush needed a doctrine, Dick Cheney had it in his suitcase. He had it ready to go.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
J. MANN (voice-over): In 1991, pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait made Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf super heroes. After years of being a supporting character, Pentagon chief Dick Cheney wanted to bask in the after glow, too.
LEMANN: He thought that because of the Gulf War, he was a really plausible presidential candidate.
J. MANN: But Cheney wasn't striking a chord.
T. MANN: Dick Cheney is as low key as they get. He has a kind of a pudgy look about him. He speaks in monotone. He doesn't generate a lot of excitement.
J. MANN: After two years, he abandoned his pursuit of the presidency. Dick Cheney decided it was time for a break and while napping during a fly fishing trip, his next opportunity materialized as if in a dream.
LEMANN: The subject came up of who should be the new CEO of Halliburton. The job had come open. And while he was asleep, all these CEOs with whom he was fishing decided he would be perfect for the job so when he woke up they told him guess what, you're the new CEO of Halliburton.
J. MANN: Cheney used his extensive government contacts to help the oil and energy company grow. But after five years on the job, old allegiances pulled him away. Presidential candidate George W. Bush, the son of his former boss, was launching his campaign and Cheney was enlisted to help him find a running mate.
SIMPSON: He'd feed a name into George Bush and George would say well, now, what about this person? Well, here's what we found or here's the negatives and the positives. Well, that's great, you know, that's great, Dick, but, you know, I'd like to think about you. And Dick just said forget it.
J. MANN: But Bush's persistence paid off. In August of 2000, Cheney formally resigned from Halliburton, with a $36 million golden handshake and the Bush-Cheney team was formed.
T. MANN: Bush very wisely saw in Cheney someone who agreed with him on policy, who embraced his conception of leadership and decision- making and thirdly, someone who wouldn't outshine him.
J. MANN: As Cheney campaigned with his wife and two daughters, his conservative core constituency became concerned about younger daughter Mary's sexual orientation. Meanwhile, the gay community was appalled that the father of a lesbian could have supported a ban on gays in the military and voted against funding for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.
But days before the start of the Republican National Convention, Cheney broke ranks with the president, saying he was against a federal ban on gay marriage.
CHENEY: At this point, I'll say my own preferences are -- is, as I've stated, that the president makes basic policy for the administration and he's made it clear that he does, in fact, support the constitutional amendment on this issue.
J. MANN: One issue where the vice president and the president see eye to eye is Iraq.
CARNEY: What is being called the Bush Doctrine is actually something that Dick Cheney has been working on for more than 10 years. When he was secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, he and some key aides who are now working in this Bush Administration developed a defense strategy that back then was considered like right- wing lunacy because it was so aggressive and contained this idea of preemption. NANCY GIBBS, SENIOR EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: So much of what Bush's instincts seem to have told him to do from certainly the moment September 11 happened, coincide with what Cheney's very rational analysis of the threat we face has told him to do for years, for a decade.
J. MANN: Cheney still insists there were links between Iraq and al Qaeda, in contrast with the findings of the 9/11 Commission.
CHENEY: The notion that you can take one paragraph from the 9/11 Commission and say, ah, therefore, that says there never was a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda is just wrong. It's not true. I'd love to go on on all of this stuff, but the fact of the matter is there clearly was a relationship there.
NICHOLS: This is a reality with Cheney that you see again and again throughout his career. He grabs hold of an idea like a dog grabbing a hold of a bone and he will not let go of it often -- long after the point where many other rational observers have decided it didn't make sense.
J. MANN: Halliburton has also come back to haunt its former CEO on a number of occasions, first for getting no big contracts in Iraq then for allegedly overcharging the government millions of dollars.
Now, on the campaign trail, the vice president is shifting gears, going from under attack to on the attack.
CHENEY: Senator Kerry has also said that if he were in charge, he would fight a more sensitive war on terror. America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive.
J. MANN: Whether Cheney's philosophy will be vindicated is still being played out in Iraq. Regardless of the outcome, Cheney has proved throughout his 40 years of politics, he will survive.
SIMPSON: He is an ambulatory heat shield. He can come through the atmosphere with the sparks flying out all sides and over the top and he lands with a smile unscathed, dapper, smiling a wry smile like I've just been through that and it wasn't too bad. He'll take all heat. He'll take it all.
ZAHN: Vice President Cheney began practicing for his debate with Senator John Edwards in early August. His jousting partner in these mock debates? Representative Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and a long-time Bush family friend.
ANNOUNCER: When we return, Dick Cheney's vice presidential opponent. He first made his name debating in North Carolina courtrooms.
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JUDGE FARMER, NORTH CAROLINA: He argued for about an hour and a half or a little more. I never saw him read from any note.
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ANNOUNCER: From top attorney to John Kerry's running mate, the story of John Edwards when we return.
NGUYEN: Good morning, I'm Betty Nguyen here at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" continues in just a moment, but first a check of the day's headlines.
Both President Bush and Senator John Kerry are focusing on domestic issues this weekend, hoping to cash in after Thursday night's debate. It's the president's 27th visit to Ohio with three campaign stops in that battleground state. Kerry is wrapping up a four-day stay in Florida with an Orlando rally before he returns to Washington for an evening fundraiser. Live reports on the campaign, that's ahead in the noon hour.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is absolutely fine after surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat. He's spending the weekend at his country estate and is scheduled to visit Africa on Tuesday.
We invite you to join Andrea Koppel at the top of the hour for "CNN LIVE SATURDAY." She'll have the latest on the volatile situation in Samarra as well as a live report from Mount St. Helens. "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" continues right now.
ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Rarely has anyone burst onto the political scene quite like John Edwards. From one time senator to vice presidential candidate, Edwards' rise has been, in Washington terms, meteoric. But with great success comes great scrutiny. Edwards likes to portray himself as a son of a mill worker, but he has also made millions as a trial lawyer. With this year's presidential debate looming, a look at Edwards, his life, the loss that changed him forever and his bid to follow John Kerry into the White House. Here is Kyra Phillips.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a photo finish in the race for vice president. After months of speculation, Democratic contender John Kerry snagged John Edwards for the No. 2 spot. The handsome, charismatic senator from North Carolina, his wife and their three children, were picture perfect. Prompting comparisons to the days of Camelot when charm, wealth, and political ambition collided in well choreographed photo ops, but this day was a long time coming.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a time that wasn't very long ago, you know back in November, December, when nobody thought anybody named John was going to be on the Democratic ticket for president. PHILLIPS: Rising up from dusty mill towns in the south, to the top corridors of power in Washington, John Edwards has been defying expectations all his life.
Born in Seneca, South Carolina, on June 10, 1953, Johnny Reed Edwards almost didn't make it home from the hospital to his parent's pink three-room house.
WALLACE EDWARDS, FATHER: When John was born in Oak County Hospital up in Seneca; I had to go borrow money from a loan company to get him and his mother out of the hospital.
PHILLIPS: Wallace, a $35 a week textile worker, and his wife, Bobbi, weren't dirt poor but there were no room for even the simplest of luxuries.
W. EDWARDS: We struggled but we didn't know that times were hard.
BOBBI EDWARDS, MOTHER: We had all we needed, the basics.
W. EDWARDS: Food and clothes.
B. EDWARDS: Barely. I would have given my arm for a clothes drier. I remember that well.
PHILLIPS: They chased work from mill to mill across the south before settling in Robbins, North Carolina. It was a hardscrabble little town with one main street where neighborhood bullies would force Johnny Edwards to learn an early lesson.
W. EDWARDS: I told him one day, I said, the best way to defend against that is to punch them in the nose and they will leave you alone.
PHILLIPS: By the time he reached North Moore High School, athletic, 6-foot tall Johnny was standing up for himself. He lettered in basketball, track and football. Bobby Cavanese (ph), who lost both of his parents in high school, was also on the football team. He remembers how Johnny and his parents took him in...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's Johnny Edwards there.
PHILLIPS: ...unusual in the south at a time when blacks and whites did not socialize.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They would pick me up and take me to their house to eat, made sure I had a decent meal and made sure I got to the game safe and made sure I got back home safe.
PHILLIPS: Johnny liked sports more than academics but he was a pretty good student.
DARRELL POWERS, HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND: His parents, you know, they were pushing him toward college. You know it was pretty much understood, you know, that he was going to go to college. PHILLIPS: It didn't take much for John's parents to convince him a degree could give him opportunities that they never had.
W. EDWARDS: He worked over here in the mill, where I worked, cleaning looms and sweeping the floor. And he'd come home and you ought to see him. He said, "I'm not going to do this all my life."
PHILLIPS: In just three years, the Edwards clan had its first college graduate. Johnny dreamed of being an attorney.
J. EDWARDS: Based on what I saw on television and read about, it felt to me like lawyers, if they were good and worked hard, could help people who needed somebody to fight for them.
PHILLIPS: But the textile management major hedged his bets applying for jobs at the mill. His ticket out came in the form of an acceptance letter, the law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Almost immediately, John was captivated by a dark haired co-ed named Elizabeth, the daughter of a Navy pilot.
DAVID KIRBY, FRIEND: Elizabeth was one of the most stunningly beautiful women I had ever seen in my life. I think John felt the same way and they started dating probably within the first two or three months of law school.
PHILLIPS: In the summer of 1977, an $11 wedding ring sealed the deal. John and Elizabeth were married within a week after taking the bar. After a stint in Nashville, Edwards moved to Raleigh and paid his dues in the Wake County Courthouse shadowing senior partners on their cases.
SMITH: There are not many people that know how to work the way he knows how to work and for John to work all night was just nothing unusual. He would just go all night.
PHILLIPS: In 1984, his hard work paid off. He won a $3.7 million verdict for a recovering alcoholic who was incapacitated after a hospital over-prescribed medication. The spotlight was all his. A string of wins proved this was no fluke. His intensive research combined with smarts, good looks, and a familiar down home drawl worked magic on juries.
KIRBY: We were in a trial one time and at the end of the trial, one of the lawyers walked up to one of the jurors and said, "Ma'am, you really had a great experience here, you just saw one of the greatest lawyers in America try a case." And the lady said, "Oh, really?" She says, "Well, which one was that?" And he says, "Well, Mr. Edwards, of course." And the lady smiled and she says, "Oh, I just thought he was one of us."
PHILLIPS: Soon opponents started to think twice about going up against him.
MICHAEL DAYTON, EDITOR, "NORTH CAROLINA LAWYERS WEEKLY": When they heard that he was involved in the case, it would certainly give them pause and they would think long and hard before they took it to trial.
PHILLIPS: By 1992, business was so good John opened his own firm with his best pal from law school, David Kirby. They specialized in personal injury cases.
JUDGE ROBERT FARMER (RET.), WAKE COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: Some people have called him an ambulance chaser. That's far from the truth because he did not need to chase an ambulance. The injured people chased him.
PHILLIPS: Life outside the courtroom was just as good, but that was about to change. When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, a devastating tragedy.
KIRBY: It's a horrible wound that I know they won't want to reopen. It's a very hard thing to move forward.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Before he graced covers of "Time" and "Newsweek" with Democratic nominee John Kerry, before his name was on the list of every television anchor, and even before "People" magazine named him America's sexiest politician, as far as the legal community of North Carolina was concerned, John Edwards has already a celebrity.
DAYTON: Very few people in the course of their career will get a million dollar verdict or above for a settlement and he had -- in a typical year, he might have five, six, seven, eight, 10 verdicts around that size, which is phenomenal.
PHILLIPS: With a record 54 cases resulting in a verdict or settlement of more than a million dollars, he was fearless.
KIRBY: He was absolutely at the peek of his legal career. He had achieved everything that you could achieve as a lawyer. He was accepted as the best trial lawyer in the state of North Carolina, possibly the best trial lawyer that's ever practiced law in the state of North Carolina.
PHILLIPS: With his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children, Wade and Kate, John Edwards was living a life he could only dream of as a boy in Robbins, North Carolina. In the summer of 1995, Edwards even tackled his fear of heights to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with his son. The two had become inseparable. The next year, 16-year-old Wade was driving to the family's beach house when a gust of wind blew his Jeep off the highway. He was killed instantly.
KIRBY: If you understood how close John and Elizabeth were to both their children, to both Wade and Kate and if you had an appreciation for just the devastation that comes with losing a child, I think you can appreciate how as parents they want to keep that part of their lives private.
PHILLIPS: Both John and Elizabeth stopped working and stayed home to grieve for more than six months. The family pulled together, focusing on ways to honor Wade's memory. They created the Wade Edwards Learning Lab, a tutoring center and computer lab built across the street from Wade's high school.
SARAH LOWDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WADE EDWARDS LEARNING LAB: John and Elizabeth were here with paintbrushes and actually helped hammer and paint to get the place up and running. During the first six to eight months that it was in existence, they were here every day working with the students after school.
J. EDWARDS: Hello, Jackie.
PHILLIPS: The couple also decided to have more children. Emma Claire and Jack were born after 46-year-old Elizabeth had hormone therapy. John Edwards considered leaving law altogether. But the case of a young girl who was severely maimed by a defective swimming pool drain brought him back. Judge Robert Farmer who presided over the case remembers John Edwards' closing arguments.
FARMER: He argued for about an hour-and-a-half or a little more. I never saw him read from any note. It's like leaning over the fence with your neighbor and talking about this little girl's problems, health problems and future problems. And that's the way he is in the courtroom. It's just talking like he's talking to a neighbor.
PHILLIPS: The jury came back with a $25 million verdict for the Lackey (ph) family. But memories of his own personal tragedy pushed him in a completely new direction.
KIRBY: I think what happened when Wade died, as anyone would, there's a lot of time for reflection on your life. It really brings home your mortality. I think that became a crossroads for John in his life.
PHILLIPS: In 1998, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Only problem, Edwards had no political experience. He hadn't even voted regularly up until then.
J. EDWARDS: How you doing, man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good to see you.
PHILLIPS: Even the people closest to him were a little surprised.
B. EDWARDS: He called and he said, "Mom, are you sitting down?" And I said, "Well, actually I am." And he said, "I've decided to run for the Senate." And I said, "Oh, you have. I think that's wonderful. You going to run for the state Senate?" He said, "No, U.S. Senate, Mama." I said, "Oh." That's all I could think to say. SMITH: I remember thinking oh my goodness, oh my goodness. That's not wise. John needs to get his feet wet, but he would not be dissuaded. I really worried that this very able man would offer himself and be disappointed because he was just biting off much more than I felt that he could chew.
PHILLIPS: Edwards spent $6 million of his own money on the campaign. And the race got ugly.
SMITH: I think that John was able to turn it around. There's a part of John that doesn't -- I think part of John's attitude is I will not let someone else establish my standard for manners.
PHILLIPS: The passion and personal charm that worked so well on North Carolina juries also worked on North Carolina voters. Newcomer John Edwards won with 51 percent of the vote. Edwards jumped into his senatorial duties, but as soon as he arrived in the Senate, his highly touted trial lawyer skills would come into play. He was tapped to interview several witnesses during President Clinton's impeachment proceeding and impressed both sides with closing arguments for the president's defense. He was becoming a hit on the national stage, but local critics say at the expense of North Carolina.
BILL COBEY, FORMER CHARIMAN, N.C. REPUBLICAN PARTY: If you go around the state they'd say, "Well, we only had one senator these last few years" because as soon as he got up there he started pursuing the big prize.
J. EDWARDS: How are you?
PHILLIPS: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, the pros and cons of the No. 2 man on the Democratic ticket.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PHILLIPS: After being on Al Gore's vice presidential short list in 2000, on September 16, 2003, John Edwards was ready to try for the top job on his own.
J. EDWARDS: That's the promise of America, a fair shake for all and a free ride for none.
PHILLIPS: The campaign focused on ending what he called two Americas, one for the haves and one for the have nots.
J. EDWARDS: And I believe that we are still a party that believes that the son of a mill worker can actually beat the son of a president for the White House.
PHILLIPS: Edwards developed a reputation as being the consummate nice guy, rarely criticizing his fellow Democratic candidates. But at one debate in New York, Edwards took a shot with then opponent and now running mate John Kerry.
J. EDWARDS: It's just simply not the truth. These are great arguments about what he intends to do going forward. My point is very simple about all this. This is the same old Washington talk that people have been listening to for decades. They want something different.
PHILLIPS: Kerry took his own potshot.
KERRY: When I came back from Vietnam in 1969, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not sure if John Edwards was out of diapers then yet or not.
HASTINGS WYMAN, EDITOR, "SOUTHERN POLITICAL REPORT": Edwards was interesting in he did not do a lot of negative campaigning. One of the things that occurs to me is he may have realized he was going to have a tough time winning the top prize this time and he didn't want to make a bunch of enemies.
KIRBY: He was criticized a lot at one point because he wouldn't go negative, he wouldn't be highly critical of his opponents but that would be out of character for him.
PHILLIPS: Bounding across the country, the 51-year-old candidate with boyish looks, charmed crowds both big...
J. EDWARDS: I have fought over and over and over...
PHILLIPS: ...and small.
J. EDWARDS: This is what I love doing, this retail politics where you get to see people face to face. They can judge what kind of person you are and what kind of ideas you have. This is wonderful. This is what politics is supposed to be about.
PHILLIPS: But it wasn't enough. Edwards won just one primary in South Carolina. On March 3, 2004, he ended his presidential bid but not his campaign.
J. EDWARDS: Today, I decided to suspend my campaign for the presidency of the United States but I want to say a word about a man who is a friend of mine, somebody who I believe has great strength and great courage, my friend Senator John Kerry...
MERLE BLACK, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR/EMORY UNIVERSITY: He really campaigned for the job as vice president I think far more than any of the other Democrats in the field. He made it known that he would love to be on the ticket.
PHILLIPS: With his southern roots, charismatic personality and ability to raise money, Edwards became a natural contender for the vice-presidential slot. Even though polls showed him a favorite among Democrats, he was far from a shoe in with Kerry. BLACK: When the two of them were on the stage, most of the attention goes to Edwards, because he's the more interesting, exciting performer up there on the stage. And some people thought that Kerry would not pick Edwards for that very reason.
PHILLIPS: But Edwards' personality may have been the very thing that got him the job.
WYMAN: The biggest advantage that Edwards brings to the Kerry ticket is this youthfulness and his energy and his optimistic style. I think voters like those things. And in this age of television I think they are very important.
PHILLIPS: Just hours after the announcement, Republicans were asking, who is John Edwards?
COBEY: There's significance to picking a liberal personal injury attorney who, you know, has little or no experience, no executive experience at all and just a few years ago he was trying cases in a courtroom. Does that qualify him to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? I don't think so.
J. EDWARDS: And some financial security...
KIRBY: His whole life has been trying to make good judgments under difficult and trying circumstances. So he has, in my opinion, the best training anyone could have.
PHILLIPS: Critics also label Edwards as a million dollar ambulance chaser who made his fortune on driving up insurance costs.
WYMAN: His trial lawyer experience is a two-way street. The thing that's a negative about it is many people feel that plaintiff's attorneys who win these enormous multimillion dollar lawsuits against companies and doctors and so forth have gotten out of hand. The flip side of that for Edwards is a doctor made a mistake and little Suzie will never walk comfortably again, and people sympathize with that. Juries have and voters may, as well.
PHILLIPS: Republicans also charge Edwards doesn't have support at home, one of the reasons they say he chose to run for president and not defend his Senate seat.
COBEY: He was in trouble and he knew it right here in his home state. And it would be very embarrassing for him to lose his Senate seat. That would have extinguished his political career.
PHILLIPS: It's opened Edwards up to charges of super sized ambition, vying for the presidency after just one term as a senator, his first and only elected office.
BLACK: It's very unusual for a freshman senator to really think seriously about running for president. Edwards has almost unlimited ambition. I think it's almost Shakespearean ambition.
PHILLIPS: Friends and supporters say Edwards has always been ambitious and there's nothing wrong with that.
SMITH: I always felt like John had a healthy ambition and a longing to rise up out of the rural North Carolina and to show the folks back home that he could do it well.
J. EDWARDS: Because this is America where everything is possible.
PHILLIPS: Out on the campaign trail, the No. 2 man on the Democratic ticket is showing folks at home he's doing quite well indeed.
ZAHN: Senator John Edwards and Vice President Dick Cheney hold their only face-to-face debate of the campaign on Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio.
That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.
ANNOUNCER: And for more people in the news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine.
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