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U.S.: Democrat Kerry Picks Edwards As Running Mate In Bid For White House

Prague, 6 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry ended months of speculation today, announcing his choice of running mate.

"I am pleased to announce that, with your help, the next vice president of the United States of America will be Senator John Edwards from North Carolina," he told supporters at a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The selection of Edwards is seen by many as a move to inject youthful vigor and populist appeal into the Democratic bid to take over the White House from Republican U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in November's election.

Southerner Edwards also gives Kerry, who is from the northeast state of Massachusetts, regional balance.

The 51-year-old Edwards had been Kerry's chief rival during this year's Democratic primaries -- the state-by-state process by which the liberal party selected its nominee for president.

A first-term U.S. senator, Edwards grew up the son of a mill worker in the poor rural south and became a millionaire trial lawyer. He ran a strong primary campaign that stressed helping the working-class by pointing out that there are "two Americas" -- one for the rich and one for those struggling to survive.

Speculation over Kerry's choice had intensified in recent days. But Kerry kept his selection secret until the last moment, even as it emerged the top contenders were Edwards, Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri, and Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa.

Addressing supporters at today's rally, Kerry called Edwards a champion of the middle class.

"I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America, a man who has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle-class Americans and for those struggling to reach the middle class, a man who has shown guts and determination and political skill in his own race for the presidency of the United States," Kerry said.

With this year's election expected to be very close, Kerry likely saw some possible advantages that Edwards could bring to his campaign.

Republican critics say Edwards lacks the experience to hold high office, a fact that Kerry himself had pointed out during the heat of the campaign. But he has shown himself to be a fiery orator and adept debater. And his looks and optimism have drawn comparisons to former President John F. Kennedy, one of America's most popular presidents.

His image compliments that of the graying Kerry, a 60-year-old former Vietnam War hero and veteran of the U.S. Senate.

Another advantage that Edwards brings to Kerry's campaign is he comes from the South, the region from which Bush hails and one that traditionally votes for the conservative Republicans.

Last winter, Edwards told voters in Iowa that he has the power to deliver key Southern votes to the Democrats.

"The South [of the United States] is not George Bush's backyard, it is my backyard, and I will beat George Bush in my backyard! That's what I want you to tell them," Edwards said.

The Republican Party immediately criticized Kerry's choice, calling Edwards a "disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and friend to personal injury trial lawyers."

The party also said it expects Kerry's announcement to give him an immediate surge in the polls, but added that it is unlikely to last. Before the announcement, Kerry was seen as having a slight lead over Bush in most polls.

Kerry and Edwards will formally become their party's challengers to Bush and Cheney at the Democratic convention in Boston later in July.