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Chris Cox's Political Report--Sen. John Edwards

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


CHRIS COX, NRA-ILA Executive Director

John Edwards' four years in the Senate are characterized primarily by poor attendance, but the votes he has cast are far closer to the Massachusetts liberal benchmark set by John Kerry than to views held by North Carolina voters.
John Kerry's selection of fellow Senator John Edwards as his running mate did not come as a terrible surprise. Announced just after the Independence Day holiday, Kerry's pick was widely perceived as an attempt to declare independence from his own image as an aloof elitist pandering to Southern and rural voters. Edwards North Carolina drawl, mill-town background and easygoing charm on the campaign trail were all seen as natural--and needed--complements to Kerry's often stiff facade.

But like so much about the Kerry campaign, the attractive traits that Edwards offers to rural and Southern voters are only skin deep. His youthful appearance and boundless energy on the campaign trail belie a policy record that offers more questions than answers. Edwards' four years in the Senate thus far are characterized primarily by poor attendance, but the votes he has cast leave his record far closer to the Massachusetts liberal benchmark set by Kerry than to the views held by the voters of North Carolina.

John Edwards, like his running mate John Kerry, has cast the same anti-gun, anti-hunting votes as Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy.

In fact, many seasoned observers theorize that Edwards entered the presidential fray precisely because he justifiably feared being unable to win a second term as Senator. His nomination as Vice President can't even be projected to bring his home state into the Kerry column. Like Al Gore, Edwards may not even be able to squeeze a victory for his ticket from the same voters who originally sent him to Washington.

The routine media barrage has focused solely on the big-hair, big-hug, big-smile camera shot that Kerry and Edwards have already perfected. A steady stream of staged appearances, from tossing a football on the tarmac to playfully tousling each others' aforementioned locks, has confirmed that the Kerry-Edwards campaign strategists are feverishly dedicated to sealing the media image of their ticket as the all-American fun-loving Everymen from Anywhere.

But what have North Carolina voters learned in Edwards' four years that have soured their opinion of the man?

The simple truth is that John Edwards is anything but the populist charmer the Kerry campaign would have you believe. Edwards' standard stump speech revolves around the concept of "Two Americas," but it would be more accurate to examine his record from the perspective of the Two John Edwards--the easygoing Southern country boy versus the shrewd, calculating trial lawyer with national aspirations.

Only the latter shows up on Edwards' voting record. Consider in particular the Senate debate over S. 659 (S. 1805), legislation to block the baseless lawsuits that are designed to bankrupt the gun industry.

On March 2, 2004, when John Kerry staked his campaign on a high-profile appearance in the Senate to sabotage S. 659 at every opportunity, Edwards was making himself rather somewhat scarce. He surfaced only to vote in favor of continuing the Clinton gun ban and in favor of the amendment to ban gun shows. On all other recorded votes during the day, including the vote on final passage of the bill, Edwards was nowhere to be seen. Was Edwards unwilling to offend his fat-cat base of trial lawyers, or did he simply prefer not to cast votes that might undercut the credibility of his down-home country boy routine?

Most likely both factors were in play. We have to look earlier in his record to see his true leanings on the issues, before he began to apply the filter of his national aspirations to his true positions on the issues. What we see helps explain why North Carolina voters are unwilling to give Edwards majority support.

In the early years of his Senate career, Edwards voted to "commend" the Million Mom March, to end private sales at gun shows, and to maintain long-term federal registration of gun buyer records. He voted for national registration of all gun show vendors, and voted to ban importation of ammunition magazines. There wasn't much in the way of gun control legislation that Edwards didn't support.

What's he against? He voted against increasing penalties for illegal firearms transfers. He opposed funding to hire additional prosecutors to prosecute drug cases, and opposed federal prosecution of juvenile offenders aged 14 or older.

He voted against the nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who went on to establish new government policy confirming the Second Amendment as an individual right. But he voted for so-called campaign finance "reform," which established unprecedented censorship on the NRA's right to political free speech.

In all, Edwards voted against gun owners--or didn't show up to vote at all--83% of the time. This is an anti-gun record by any estimation, but let's see if Edwards' Southern charade continued on hunting issues.

"The Humane Scorecard," a joint project of the vehemently anti-hunting groups Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Fund for Animals, gives Edwards high marks on the overwhelming majority of "pro-animal" issues it tracks. Edwards is repeatedly cited for taking "pro-animal position through co-sponsorship of a bill, signing a letter, or a vote for the animals."

But this endorsement pales in comparison to the fawning personal assessment of Edwards made by Wayne Pacelle, the head of HSUS. Pacelle wrote that his admiration for Edwards began the moment he won election, saying: "Edwards immediately became a much-admired figure within the animal protection community by defeating incumbent Senator Lauch Faircloth, who was the chamber's only operator of an industrial hog factory. Still in his first term in the Senate, Edwards has been a consistently reliable supporter of animal protection and regularly co-sponsors animal protection legislation or supports our positions on key votes. . . . His general support for our positions is noteworthy because North Carolina's agriculture, hunting and animal fighting industries are larger and more vocal than those in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida--the states represented by the other senators vying for the Democratic nomination."

There you have it, folks. The Two John Edwards have been fighting it out since his very first day in office. The John Edwards elected by North Carolina voters has now all but disappeared, replaced by the John Edwards who wants to be in a Democratic White House, even if it's in the second seat. That John Edwards has cast the same anti-gun, anti-hunting votes as Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy. But along the way, he's developed the ability to gloss over his voting record by saying and doing anything necessary to win the next election in which he chooses to compete.

And that makes him a perfect match for John Kerry.


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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.