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Edwards Steps Up His Activity

Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) is picking up the pace of his political appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates as he seeks to cement his status as a leading vice presidential pick for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Edwards will appear at a fundraiser for Washington Sen. Patty Murray on April 15 and is finalizing details on an event for South Carolina Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Senate in the Palmetto State, on May 1.

He is also set to address the North Carolina Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on April 24 but will not hold a separate fundraising event with likely Senate nominee Erskine Bowles due to a scheduling conflict.

In addition, Edwards on Tuesday officially changed the name of his leadership political action committee from New American Optimists to the One America Committee.

Edwards will use One America to fund his political travels around the country as well as allow the Senator to make donations to candidates.

The committee must report any contributions and disbursements for the first three months of the year with the Federal Election Commission by April 15.

“Senator Edwards wants to do everything he can to help elect more Democrats at every level of the party and to make sure that Senator Kerry beats George Bush in the fall,” said spokeswoman Kim Rubey.

Edwards’ willingness to campaign on behalf of fellow Senators as well as Senate candidates is being cast as a major boon by national Democrats.

“There are few people better in the country than John Edwards on the stump and firing up Democratic audiences,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. “He will be a star and a prolific fundraiser for Senate candidates and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot where he chooses to do that.”

Given the current Senate landscape, which includes five Democratic-held open seats in the South, Edwards’ roots in that region of the country could come in particularly handy, according to knowledgeable Democrats.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen was unimpressed with Edwards’ ramped-up political efforts.

“If he was that strong a leader for the Democrats, he’d probably be their [presidential] nominee,” said Allen. “We are not concerned about him going into any state.”

Edwards was the last competitive Democrat to drop from the presidential primary process in favor of Kerry.

Other Democrats that also unsuccessfully pursued the presidential nomination and are either mentioned, interested or both in being vice president are also beginning to make their presence felt for downballot candidates on the campaign trail.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) is helping raise money for the DSCC that will eventually benefit the Sunshine State Democratic nominee.

Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) has made it clear to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that he is willing to help in any way, and plans are in the works to make a major fundraising push centered around the former House Minority Leader, according to an informed party source.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) has also been active, forming a new organization — Democracy for America — that as one of its main tasks bundles individual contributions to targeted Democrats around the country.

For the near future, however, Edwards will have the spotlight.

On April 15, he will travel to Seattle for Murray’s annual “Golden Tennis Shoes Award” event, a fundraiser that will benefit Murray’s re-election campaign.

She is facing a serious challenge from 5th district Rep. George Nethercutt (R) but has outdistanced the House Member in fundraising.

At the end of 2003, Murray had $4 million on hand compared to $1.4 million for Nethercutt.

“He is a great speaker and has a unique story,” said Murray campaign manager Carol Albert.

In South Carolina, where Edwards was born and where he won his only victory in the primary process, he will speak at the state Democratic Party convention early next month.

He is also expected to raise money for Tenenbaum, who has cleared the primary field in her race to replace Sen. Fritz Hollings (D).

Republicans there have a six-way primary on their hands with a runoff the likely result. Former Gov. David Beasley (R) is nearly assured a spot in the June 22 runoff with Rep. Jim DeMint, former state Attorney General Charlie Condon and real estate developer Thomas Ravenel fighting for their other slot.

Tenenbaum Communications Director Adam Kovacevich said Edwards’ experience will energize the party activists.

“South Carolina was very good to John Edwards and we’re happy he’s returning for the convention,” Kovacevich said. “He has shown he’s popular here and we would love to have as much help as he can give.”

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