Up And Coming
Edwards doesn't cultivate Jews,
but his views win Jewish support.
MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
en. John Edwards may not have
recognized the Hebrew aleph
stitched onto James Dricker's
cap, but he understood what
was written in his heart.
Dricker, 55, the education director at
Temple Israel in Portsmouth, N.H., was
impressed with Edwards' sincerity after
speaking with the North Carolina sena-
tor about health care, education and the
environment. "I don't vote Jewish,"
Dricker said after the get-together days
before Christmas at the Friendly Toast
restaurant. "I vote based on common
sense and what is best for the country
and ultimately for me."
Edwards is an exception in a presiden-
tial campaign marked by loud dedara-
tions of Jewish affinity. He has warm ties
with Jews in his state, but he hasn't made
an issue of it.
Edwards was a highly successful trial
lawyer in North Carolina seven years ago
when he sought a seat in the U.S. Senate
and largely was able to self-finance his
campaign. That meant Edwards didn't
spend as much time as other aspiring
lawmakers courting support and dollars
in the Jewish community, both in and
out of his state.
Edwards has a solid record on Israel
and emphasizes the issues that resonate
with Jewish voters like Dricker: health,
education and poverty. Edwards' experi-
ence growing up poor in the South
helped mold an outlook that makes him
attractive to groups that see themselves as
outsiders scrambling to get in.
"I feel such a personal responsibility
when it comes to issues of civil rights and
race," he said.
In his stump speech, Edwards says the
color of one's skin or any other circum-
stances of birth "should never control
"I'll never forget when I was in the
sixth grade — I was living in Georgia at
the time. My sixth-grade teache?walked
into the classroom at the end of the day
and said he wouldn't be teaching next ,
year because they were about to integrate
the schools, and he wouldn't teach in an
Born in South Carolina on June 10,
1953, Edwards spent most of his child-
hood in North Carolina. He was the first
in his family to go to college, graduating
from North Carolina State University in
1974. He received a law degree from the
University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill in 1977.
Ken Broun, a former dean of UNC's
law school, said, "He was, as I had been
told, one of the" best trial lawyers I had
Broun served as a private judge for an
Edwards case in the early 1990s. "He
was an enormously persuasive lawyer
who did a very good job for his client."
Edwards' specialty was personal-injury
cases involving children. He won a
record-setting verdict for Valerie Lakey, a
girl who was severely injured by a faulty
swimming pool drain in 1993.
Edwards was apolitical, friends and col-
leagues said. "If somebody had told me
John Edwards was going to run for polit-
ical office, I wouldn't have believed
them," said Fred Baron, co-finance chair-
man of Edwards' campaign and former
president of the Association of Trial
Lawyers of America.
The death of Edwards' eldest son,
Wade, at age 16 in a 19 . 96 car accident,
changed Edwards' life. "When John
walked out of the church for Wade's
funeral, all he said was, 'Something good
has got to come from this,'" Baron said.
"You saw a transformation."
Edwards withdrew completely for six
months, friends said, and walked away
from his law practice. "He decided at
that point that he wanted to do some-
thing other than the strict practice of
law," Broun said.
Edwards wanted a larger mission, and
chose to challenge incumbent Sen.
Lauch Fairdoth, a Republican.
"When he decided to run for political
office, it made incredible sense to me
because of his incredible talent to con-
nect with people," said Bill Cassell, a
longtime Edwards friend and former
Jewish federation campaign chairman in
Randall Kaplan, a Greensboro busi-
nessman who is a board member for the
American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, remembers early meetings
Edwards held with Jewish leaders.
"When he first started considering the
Senate race, he was a great listener,"
Sen. John Edwards
Kaplan said. "He was as knowledgeable
as someone can get when they first run
for office but didn't have first-hand expe-
Edwards reached out to the Jewish
community as a Senate candidate but
didn't court Jews the same way other
aspiring politicians do. "He would cer-
tainly have ties to individuals in the
Jewish community, but I don't know that
he has had any ties in any formal way,"
Upon his election in 1998, Edwards
continued listening. "John would always
make himself available to us," Kaplan
said. "The one thing John didn't do was
pander. He really came and listened."
As a member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, Edwards soon was boning
up on foreign policy: "A lot of times, you
go into a Senate office and they just
repeat back to you the party line,"
Kaplan said. "With John, he would really
listen and you could tell he was really
thinking about it."
Kaplan now advises Edwards' cam-
paign on Israel and Middle East issues.
Edwards visited Israel with Intelligence
Committee colleagues in 2001 when a
suicide bomber attacked a Sbarro restau-
rant in downtown Jerusalem. "I think
the trip left on him an understanding,"
Kaplan said. "He really gets the strategic
issues, the existential issues."
In a statement to JTA, Edwards said he
would increase U.S. engagement in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the
appointment of a senior envoy to the
region, and he signaled support for
Israel's anti-terror tactics, including the
security barrier Israel is erecting in the
'As long as the Palestinian leadership
fails to end terror, Israel has a right to
take measures to defend itself," Edwards
said. "Such defensive measures are not
the cause of terrorism — they are the
response to terrorism."
Edwards speaks about,the war in Iraq
and other foreign policy issues in cam-
paign stops, but his real connection with
voters comes when discussing social poli-
cy. His platform focuses largely on pro-
viding health care for every child, a free
year of college education and tax cuts for
businesses that keep jobs in the United
Edwards has called for changes to the
Patriot Act, which some say strips away
civil liberties in pursuit of intelligence to
In his statement, Edwards said he sup-
ports faith-based charities delivering
social services "in a manner consistent
with the First Amendment" and said the
charities should follow anti-discrimina-
Edwards, a Methodist, has a good
grasp on the religious politics of his
state, friends say. "Up until the last 15
years, this was a fairly lonely place for
Jews and Catholics," Broun said. "I
think he understands that."
In his statement to JTA , Edwards
said, "Faith is enormously important to
me personally and to tens of millions of
Americans." Edwards' friends say the
candidate is privately spiritual. Cassell
said that Elizabeth Edwards "wouldn't let
him be any other way." The couple,
married in 1977, have four children. ❑