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UPDATE: John Edwards dropped out of the race on March 3, 2004.

Name: John Edwards
Birth date: June 10, 1953
Education: Bachelor's degree, North Carolina State University, 1974; law degree, University of North Carolina, 1977
Career: Trial lawyer, 1977-1998
Elected office: U.S. senator, elected 1998
Family: Wife, Elizabeth; four children, one of whom died in a 1996 car accident
Quote: "I want to be a champion for the people I have fought for all my life -- regular people."
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From courtroom to campaign trail, Edwards displays ambition

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It says a lot about John Edwards' confidence that his first campaign for public office was a bid for the U.S. Senate. And it says a lot about his determination that he won -- defeating an incumbent.

Edwards, a freshman senator from North Carolina, is seeking the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, stressing his Southern roots and his relative novice status in the world of politics.

"If the American people want a lifelong politician in the White House, that's not me," Edwards, 50, declared when he threw his hat in the ring in January.

Well-spoken, photogenic and quick on his feet, Edwards made his fortune as a successful trial lawyer before entering politics. As a personal-injury attorney, he convinced juries to award multimillion verdicts.

One of his most celebrated cases resulted in a record $25 million award to a 9-year-old North Carolina girl seriously injured by a defective swimming pool drain.

When Edwards talks about his days as a lawyer -- and his career as a senator -- he often casts himself as a champion of "regular folks," a theme he has resurrected for his presidential bid.

First in family to go to college

Edwards was born in South Carolina, the son of a textile worker and a mother who held a variety of jobs while raising him. The family moved to North Carolina when Edwards was a child, and he became the first member of his family to go to college, North Carolina State University.

He earned his law degree with honors in 1977 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Almanac of American Politics notes that Edwards began his legal career by representing recording companies accused of pirating Elvis Presley records. As a trial lawyer, he gained a reputation for his powerful and persuasive arguments, a skill he later put to good use on the campaign trail.

Edwards was first elected to public office in 1998, following his successful campaign against Lauch Faircloth, a Republican incumbent who had amassed a conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate.

Edwards dipped into his personal fortune to pay for the campaign, and he highlighted his ideas on education, health care and Social Security in a series of television ads. He was criticized for one ad that suggested he was not a native North Carolinian, and Faircloth hammered him as a slick trial lawyer. But Edwards won with 51 percent of the vote.

Notice in national political circles

His legal skills came into play soon after the election. Colleagues singled him out as an articulate and persuasive speaker in the Clinton impeachment deliberations in the Senate, which acquitted the president of the charges brought by the House of Representatives.

As a senator, Edwards has fought GOP-led efforts to place award limits on lawsuits. He's also been out front in efforts to modernize the nation's banking system and has been a chief advocate of a patient's bill of rights.

More recently, he has emerged as a fierce critic of the Bush administration in its war on terrorism, saying its efforts have fallen short.

He voted in favor of granting Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq in October 2002.

Edwards' ambition and youthful vigor have gained him notice in national political circles. He was considered by the Gore campaign in 2000 as a possible running mate. It wasn't too long after being passed over that Edwards started taking steps for his own presidential bid.

In September 2003, Edwards announced that he would not seek a second Senate term, choosing instead to focus on his presidential bid.

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