John Edwards: The charismatic lawyer whose big gamble paid off

For John Edwards, a gamble made last September has truly paid off. Then, the millionaire trial lawyer turned politician announced he would not be seeking re-election as Senator for North Carolina so he could concentrate on his run for the presidency.

For John Edwards, a gamble made last September has truly paid off. Then, the millionaire trial lawyer turned politician announced he would not be seeking re-election as Senator for North Carolina so he could concentrate on his run for the presidency.

Supporters of Mr Edwards, 51, say that decision underlined his determination and resilience. Others might say it pointed to canniness and ambition - running for the presidency but in reality aiming for the next slot - often ignored in all the talk of Edwards' southern charm.

That he has charisma in buckets is beyond doubt. The youthful senator warmed, flirted with and engergised audiences from the start, whether he was speaking to several hundred or just a few dozen. His persistent message was there were "Two Americas". Too many people, he said, were in that America stricken by poverty and a lack of opportunity.

It was an environment to which Edwards said he could relate. He was born into a blue-collar family in Seneca, South Carolina. His father worked in a textile mill and his mother in the post office.

His family moved to the small North Carolina town of Robbins, where he excelled at the local high school. Edwards' route out took him to North Carolina State University and from there to law school and a hugely successful, 20-year career as a trial lawyer. He won more than $150m worth of verdicts or settlements in 60 cases in the 1990s, often against large corporations and insurance companies.

Tragedy struck Edwards and his wife Elizabeth - they had met at college - in 1996, when their son Wade was killed when high winds swept his four-wheel-drive off the road. Edwards still cites a trip he and Wade made the previous year to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as one of his most meaningful accomplishments.

Edwards then changed paths. He won the Senate seat in 1998, beating the Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth. He and his wife also had Emma Claire, now 5, and Jack, 3. They already had a daughter Catherine, now 21.

He was such a rising star that he was considered as a possible running mate for Al Gore in 2000. He did not get the nod, but could take comfort in People magazine's decision to name him as the "Sexiest Politician in 2000".

Edwards entered the Democratic presidential race with much fanfare at the start of 2003. Many felt his star had risen too quickly and he would be unable to satisfy expectations.

It seemed, however, that Edwards was able to strike a chord. He said: "This is the America that still believes the son of a mill worker can beat the son of a president for the White House."

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