NEW ORLEANS—As he launches his second White House bid here Thursday morning, John Edwards faces a different political landscape than he did three years ago when he was a little-known freshman senator from North Carolina.
But the campaign hit its first glitch before it even began when its election Web site went live Wednesday, the day before Edwards was to use hurricane ravaged New Orleans as the backdrop to his announcement. Aides quickly shut the Web site down.
After having been the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, Edwards is now an established national political figure. That means the pressure is on for him to perform well in the early caucus and primary states in 2008, as well as in the money-raising chase in 2007.
Last time, the Democratic primary was a wide-open affair. This time, Edwards must contend with widespread assumptions that New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the odds-on favorite to capture the nomination and that Edwards' fresh-faced appeal has been eclipsed by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
"Before Barack Obama, it was clear Edwards was going to be the biggest hurdle for Hillary to overcome and had the best shot at stopping her," said Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of the Political Hotline, an Internet newsletter. "Obama complicates his run. ... If it wasn't for Obama, I think we'd say this is a two-person race."
Edwards, 53, enters the presidential race with considerable assets. Polls show that he's among the best known of the Democratic contenders. He's the only announced Democratic hopeful who has been through the grueling presidential marathon and who has an organization in place. He seems likely to receive solid financial support from many of the nation's trial lawyers, and he appears poised to pick up the support of a significant portion of organized labor.
The new early nominating schedule seems favorable to Edwards, who has strong ties in some of the early battlegrounds. The nominee could be determined in January 2008, when caucus and primary voters in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina make their choices.
Edwards is also the only Southerner in the race, with the possible exception of retired Gen. Wesley Clark. The last Democrat from outside the South to win the presidency was John F. Kennedy in 1960.
But Edwards has plenty of skeptics.
"He has got a lot of problems," said Allan Lichtman, a presidential scholar at American University. "He didn't do much for the Kerry-Edwards ticket. He came in with a lot of promise, but he didn't pan out. He lost the debate to Dick Cheney. He is going to be way outspent by Hillary Clinton. He doesn't have a natural base."
The Democratic contest can be viewed like the NCAA basketball tournament, said political analyst Charles Cook, publisher of The Cook Political Report. In one bracket, everybody has penciled in Clinton. The question, Cook said, is who will survive to face Clinton in the opposing bracket.
"He's dealing, as all the candidates are, with the looming presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and the recent excitement over Barack Obama," said Lee Miringoff, director of the New York-based Marist Institute for Public Opinion. "That having been said, there is still a following for his more progressive populism. He is certainly a force to be reckoned with down the road."
Edwards is formally announcing his campaign in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The location underscores Edwards' emphasis on poverty, which some view as a political gamble. The theme is an extension of his "Two Americas" message from his 2004 campaign.
There are other questions as Edwards begins his White House quest:
_Has Edwards' moment passed? Edwards was the new face in 2004, and some voters liked his sunny persona. But some may view Edwards as a bit shopworn. He failed to help carry the Kerry-Edwards ticket anywhere in the South, including his home state.
"A lot of folks are going to view his candidacy and strategy in the context of the Kerry-Edwards campaign," said Dick Hartpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic chairman. "Many people, including myself, thought it was a strategic disaster. They wrote off huge parts of the country, including South Carolina. ... It's going to be very difficult for Southerners to forget that snub."
The good news for Edwards is that polling suggests Democrats tend to blame Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, not Edwards, for losing to President Bush.
"The most encouraging thing for Edwards is he came out of `04 with a good bit of residual good will, particularly in Iowa, and Kerry had none," said Cook. "He came out of it as well or better than anybody had any right to hope for."
_Does Edwards have the proper seasoning? One of the knocks on Edwards in 2004 was that he lacked sufficient experience to be president.
Edwards has served only one six-year term in the Senate and has never held an executive post. But he has been globe-hopping during the past two years, meeting with foreign leaders in an effort to broaden his resume.
_Can Edwards win the anti-war vote? Edwards was booed when he appeared before California Democrats in 2004 because of his vote for a resolution authorizing the war in Iraq. Edwards has since said his vote was a mistake, and he has courted the anti-war bloggers who backed Howard Dean in 2004.
_Will organized labor help Edwards? Edwards had little labor support when he ran in 2004. But since then, Edwards has been heavily courting labor—walking the picket lines and participating in a campaign to pressure Wal-Mart to treat its workers better. He's expected to name former Michigan congressman David Bonior, a key labor ally, as his campaign manager. Labor could play an important role in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses.
But labor no longer has the clout that it once had.
"The last time labor got their candidate was Walter Mondale," Todd said, referring to the Democratic nominee in 1984.
(Christensen reports for The News & Observer.)
THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL FIELD
Who has announced:
_Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich
_Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack
Other possible candidates:
_Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden
_New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
_Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd
_Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry
_Illinois Sen. Barack Obama
_Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
_Former Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee
_New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson
_Gen. Wesley Clark, retired NATO commander, from Arkansas
Already said no:
_Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh
_Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold
_Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner
Who has announced:
Who has formed exploratory committees:
_Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback
_Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore
_Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
_Arizona Sen. John McCain
_Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson
Other possible candidates:
_Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia
_Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel
_California Rep. Duncan Hunter
_New York Gov. George Pataki
_Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
Already said no:
_Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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