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Edwards raises more 2004 questions

While most politicians are busy preparing for the November 2002 elections, speculation continues that North Carolina Senator John Edwards may have another election in mind.

Recently, reports have grown that the senator has been garnering support from fellow Democrats in hopes of securing their nomination in the 2004 presidential race.

As a possible sign of his intentions, Edwards held a retreat in the golfing community of Pinehurst, N.C., last week. The event was organized by the New American Optimists, a leadership committee Edwards created to "help support candidates around the state and around the country who share his ideals," said his spokesperson Mike Briggs. The retreat's festivities ranged from briefings of key political issues to a performance by Hootie and the Blowfish.

Among those in attendance were former President Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and this year's North Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Erskine Bowles.

"They are people that can make a difference in John's future campaigns, whatever they may be," said N.C. Secretary of State and retreat attendee Elaine Marshall. "He's working hard to build the right kind of team."

Although Edwards has not officially announced his candidacy, he has traveled to important presidential primary states--including New Hampshire, Iowa and Michigan--to support other Democrats. Some have speculated that these stops are actually campaign stops, but Briggs denied those allegations. He also declined to comment on Edwards' plans for the 2004 election.

If Edwards does decide to run, though, some experts' predictions of his success are fairly optimistic.

"If he is an effective campaigner and his opponents are lackluster, he may become a viable presidential candidate, or, more likely, a viable vice-presidential candidate," said Duke Professor of Political Science David Paletz.

Compared to other possible 2004 Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Al Gore, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Ted Arrington, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said Edwards is not out of his league.

"Edwards' chance is at least as good as any other Democrat," Arrington said.

Although some North Carolinians have expressed concern that Edwards' candidacy may detract from his obligations in the Senate, other senators have run for presidential offices in the past without conflict. "This is a very standard sort of thing," said John Aldrich, a Duke political science professor.

Paletz added that even if Edwards' presidential ambitions fall short in two years, he may use the media attention to gain support for future runs in the national arena.

"The most likely scenario is for his efforts to achieve public visibility and make him a viable presidential candidate for 2008," he said.

If Edwards wins the nomination in two years, he may have to run for both the presidential and senatorial offices in 2004, which has been done before. Some predict, though, that Edwards will have little problem winning reelection.

"I don't think he will face serious opposition for the Senate. He will have so much money he will be impossible to beat," said Michael Munger, professor of political science.

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