John Kerry introduced his running mate, John Edwards, as the man to help him “speak the heart of America,” but some of the loudest cheers for Mr. Kerry’s pick came on the country’s extremities: a conference call of Manhattan fund-raisers, the midtown offices of urban labor, and a hotel in Boston where trial lawyers cheered and stamped their feet when word of the choice came through.
The North Carolina Senator was the choice of the party’s rank and file and of its elite. And Mr. Edwards is poised to squeeze out the money and organizational muscle that remains to be squeezed from a city whose enthusiasm for Mr. Kerry has yet to match its enmity for President George W. Bush.
“It’s a good pick in the vast plains of the heartland, and also in the canyons of Manhattan,” said Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson.
If there’s any discordant note in New York’s rejoicing, it comes from supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton, who now slides to the second seat in the waiting room for 2008 or 2012. But those dates are impossibly far off in comparison to this November, when Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards appear to stand a real chance of winning the White House. And for now, New York stands to offer a final spurt of cash and a flood of campaign workers to a battle that will be decided elsewhere.
“Everyone is going to work their butts off,” said City Councilman Bill de Blasio, who ran Mr. Edwards’ New York State campaign for the nomination. “There were a lot of folks very emotionally connected to Edwards who were going to be involved in the general election any way you slice it, but now people are just going to go wild.”
This is a far cry from Mr. Edwards’ first arrival in New York, when he was received coolly by the city’s circle of influential political donors and fund-raisers. Some were already backing Mr. Kerry, some were leaning toward a surging Howard Dean, while Clinton loyalists kept their powder dry for the late entrance of General Wesley Clark.
“Until Iowa, there was a lot of skepticism in New York about John Edwards’ potential,” said Laura Ross, a Manhattan Democratic activist who became a key backer of Mr. Edwards. “When he first came here in 2003, most traditional Democratic fund-raisers in New York didn’t see his appeal.”
That all changed in January, when Mr. Edwards ran second in the Iowa caucuses and Democratic activists began paying attention to his fluency and charm.
“John Edwards is a spark, and I think that’s what we all are looking forward to, a spark,” said Fern Hurst, a Democratic fund-raiser, speaking from Barcelona. “I think he brings a lot of life into the campaign.”
“We all wanted Edwards, because he’s a real star,” said Toni Goodale, another Manhattan fund-raiser.
Mr. Edwards’ supporters have been uniquely loyal to their candidate during the four months since he bowed out of the race. While Mr. Clark’s and Richard Gephardt’s finance committees folded themselves eagerly into the Kerry operation, Mr. Edwards’ supporters kept in touch with him and each other and lobbied for a Kerry-Edwards ticket. They continued to call Mr. Edwards their candidate and mumbled their wishes to Kerry staffers. At a cocktail party in March to introduce the Edwards finance committee to Mr. Kerry, several donors told Mr. Kerry directly that he should put Mr. Edwards on the ticket “if you want to see our firepower.”
It’s a promise they seem more than ready to deliver on.
A Different Story
“There are many of us who have been working for Kerry because we think he’s a great candidate, but now that Edwards is on the ticket, it’s going to be a different story,” said Ms. Hurst.
About 100 of Mr. Edwards’ financial backers participated in a conference call several hours after his candidacy became public, according to two people who participated in the call. Mr. Kerry’s finance chairman, Louis Susman, pressed them to raise the maximum $2,000 contributions for the Kerry-Edwards campaign and $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee from other Democrats before the end of July, when Mr. Kerry ends his fund-raising in exchange for $75 million in public financing.
Mr. Edwards is also expected to hit the road on a fund-raising tour of major cities, adding to the “substantial” total one campaign source said he has already raised for Mr. Kerry.
But Mr. Edwards’ New York support extends beyond the salons of Park Avenue. While few chieftains of the labor unions and other bastions of liberal power endorsed Mr. Edwards in the primary, he was everyone’s second choice.
“The more people saw [Mr. Edwards], the more they liked him, which is saying a lot in Presidential politics,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, who endorsed Mr. Kerry after his early primary victories. Others involved in the labor movement said the leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which had been a key early supporter of Dr. Dean, also warmed to Mr. Edwards.
“I had many conversations with labor people [who said] that they liked Edwards the most but, for institutional reasons, they were with Gephardt or Dean,” said Dan Cantor, the executive director of the labor-backed Working Families Party. “His stump speech during the primary was the most articulate and passionate version of the progressive view of American life that any of us had heard in a good while. He had a little bit of class anger.”
Class anger is, Mr. Cantor acknowledged, an unusual attribute for a multimillionaire, but it’s integral to the way the plaintiffs’ bar has long presented itself and its clients. And nobody welcomed the news of Mr. Kerry’s choice with more enthusiasm than the members of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, sequestered at a Boston Marriott for their annual convention.
When the choice of Mr. Edwards was made official just after 9 a.m., lawyers interrupted their seminars for the announcement, said Shoshana Bookson, the president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.
“There was a whole lot of cheering and foot-stomping,” she said. “The mood was excitement beyond description.”
Trial lawyers, whose financial support for Mr. Edwards helped make him a contender in the primaries, would have backed any Democrat against Mr. Bush, who favors limiting plaintiffs’ damages in many civil cases. But Mr. Edwards is a particularly appealing candidate, not because he is the most loyal to their legislative agenda, but because he is such an appealing image of a profession often derided as “money-grubbing,” Ms. Bookson said.
Mel Weiss, a major Democratic fund-raiser and a partner at Milberg, Weiss, Bershad & Schulman, one of New York’s leading plaintiffs’ law firms, agreed.
“We haven’t been very effective as a plaintiffs’ bar at explaining to people how important we are to their lives, and hopefully we have now a spokesperson who is articulate and well-liked enough, and who has lived that life and can explain to the constituencies there how wrongheaded the Republicans’ attacks on us have been,” he said.
The trial lawyers’ enemies, too, were pleased by the focus that Mr. Edwards’ new prominence will bring to their cause. James Copland, director of the conservative Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Studies, which tried to calculate the nation’s “tort tax,” said Mr. Edwards’ career as a tort lawyer “could cut either way.”
“You’ve got a heart-wrenching anecdote on one hand against demonstrable fact on the other,” he said.
As Republicans launched their first salvos, however, many Democrats had half an eye on Westchester, the Clinton family home, to see how the former President and current Senator would take the full emergence of Mr. Edwards as a likely contestant-and rival to Ms. Clinton-for the Presidential nomination in 2008, if Mr. Bush is re-elected, or in 2012, if Mr. Kerry wins.
Just last month, on CNN’s Larry King Live , Mr. Clinton took what looked to many like a veiled shot at Mr. Edwards. Asked how to pick a Vice President, he ignored the considerations that made Mr. Edwards so attractive, traditional questions of balance in region and in style.
“The most important thing is that he picks somebody that he believes with all his heart would be a great President if he dropped dead, got shot, was in a plane crash,” Mr. Clinton said. “And the second most important thing is that he pick somebody that he likes and has confidence in, that he’ll give a lot of responsibility to and form a real partnership with.”
After Mr. Edwards was chosen, however, Ms. Clinton’s office e-mailed a short statement declaring that she was “excited” by Mr. Kerry’s choice and labeling the North Carolina Senator “a tireless advocate for middle-class America.”