Here's what John Edwards has to look forward to if he becomes the next president:
Budget deficits that are slowly coming down from all-time highs; a global climate crisis that has been mostly back-burnered for eight years; widespread dissatisfaction with the No Child Left Behind law, which many educators have said values testing over learning; a military that is stretched well beyond its capacity, and which is using up its equipment at a record pace; a housing crisis gripping the nation and threatening to worsen; a looming Social Security meltdown as the first baby boomers turn 62 in 2008; and the continuing threat of terrorism from Osama bin Laden and others.
And let's not forget the war in Iraq, which President Bush has already predicted will continue well beyond his administration, and some experts have said might see U.S. involvement for at least another decade.
Not only does John Edwards want this job — he said he'd embrace it, and would be eager to meet the countless challenges that come with it.
"When I was growing up, I can tell you story after story after story of the struggles that my family went through," the candidate said when asked why he wanted the highest office in the land at an appearance in Iowa last week. "My mother and father had to borrow money to get me out of the hospital when I was born. When I was a young man, I used to go into the field with my father all the time and see what he had to do every day to take care of my family, and how hard it was. ... I have had everything you could ever have in this country, but I'm here because my parents sacrificed for me, and my country was there for me.
"I want every single child in America to have the chances that I have had," he continued. "That's why I want to be president of the United States. On behalf of those families that worked in the mill with my father, on behalf of the families I grew up with — those are the people that I've been fighting for my whole life."
Edwards has been close before. The former one-term senator from North Carolina was Democratic nominee John Kerry's running mate in 2004, narrowly losing the hotly contested race against incumbent George W. Bush. Edwards, 54, has spent some of his time since the 2004 election working on poverty issues at the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
But he's also spent a fair amount of it visiting and revisiting states like Iowa and New Hampshire (the site of Thursday's MTV/MySpace forum which will be webcast live at 12 p.m ET through both MTV.com and MySpaceTV.com), sowing the seeds for his second presidential run, and spreading his vision of America's future and his thoughts on how to get young people to vote for president the way they do for "American Idol."
He thinks he's identified what will motivate the youth to vote: "If young people are inspired by a cause, as opposed to just politics ... in other words, if they want to end the war in Iraq, do something about the genocide in Darfur, they want to make sure that all kids get to go to college without being burdened with so much debt — those are causes that young people care about," he said.
The son of a textile-worker father and letter-carrier mother, Edwards was born on June 10, 1953, in Seneca, South Carolina. He became the first person in his family to attend college, earning a B.A. in textile technology from North Carolina State University in 1974 and a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977. The majority of Edwards' legal work was in the lucrative personal-injury field, where he represented people claiming medical malpractice or corporate negligence. Among several major cases he won, the most famous was his 1997 lawsuit against a pool-supplies manufacturer on behalf of a 3-year-old girl who was seriously injured by the suction on a pool-drain pump. He won a $25 million judgment for the family, which was then the largest personal injury award in North Carolina's history.
He met his wife, Elizabeth Anania, at UNC. They married in 1977 and had four kids, the eldest of whom, Wade, died at age 16 in a 1996 car accident. The death of his first-born spurred Edwards to go into politics and run for the Senate in 1996, the first of several hard challenges that have shaped both his political and personal story. As an underdog, he won against incumbent Republican Launch Faircloth by a margin of 83,000 votes (51 percent to 47 percent). While in office, he notably deposed former intern Monica Lewinsky during President Bill Clinton's 1999 Senate impeachment trial.
Edwards also co-sponsored the 2002 authorization of military force in Iraq, though he has since apologized for that vote. He has generally voted in favor of abortion rights and affirmative action, as well as for finding ways to allow more legal immigrants into the U.S. Like his current campaign, Edwards got an early start on his 2004 presidential run, sowing the seeds in Iowa — years before voters went to the polls — with a message not unlike the one he carries today about the gap between the rich and the working class, and the need to tackle poverty in America.
Three months after abandoning his 2004 presidential bid, Edwards was tapped to be Kerry's running mate. One of the lasting sound bites from that summer's campaign was a debate between Edwards and Vice President Dick Cheney, in which Cheney erroneously said he'd never met Edwards before, blaming their failure to meet on Edwards' copious time away from the Senate while campaigning for president. Cheney was proven wrong a short time later when reporters found videotape evidence of the two men greeting each other.
A more serious challenge Edwards has faced in both his presidential runs is his wife's health. On the day that Kerry and Edwards conceded defeat in 2004, Elizabeth announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, in March of this year, the Edwards revealed that Elizabeth had once again been diagnosed with breast cancer, this time stage IV, which while not curable, is treatable. Though he said he'd considered giving up his run, Edwards described how his wife urged him to press on, vowing to help out as much as she was able on the campaign trail.
"Elizabeth and I had a decision to make a few months ago," Edwards said last week of the second diagnosis. "It was just the two of us in a hospital room after getting very bad news. We thought about it, talked about it. I don't mind telling you, I said to her, 'Whatever you need me to do.' We've been married 30 years now. She said, 'What I want you to do is be president of the United States and stand up for the people we've been fighting for!' "
Considered one of the more progressive, liberal Democrats in the current race, Edwards was firmly against Bush's troop surge in Iraq earlier this year and told MTV about an issue he feels not enough people are thinking about. "The one that I think doesn't get enough attention is not just ending the war in Iraq, but what do we do to make America's force feel good in the world anymore? What do we do to attack world poverty? What do we do to stop the spread of disease?" Edwards said. "What do we do about simple things like sanitation and clean drinking water, things that really matter in other parts of the world?"
The candidate also said he's looking forward to the immediacy of the first-ever MTV/MySpace forum, which will find him sitting down with MTV News correspondents Gideon Yago and SuChin Pak and WashingtonPost.com political reporter Chris Cillizza on the University of New Hampshire campus to answer questions submitted via MySpaceIM and MTV.com. "I think it's terrific," he said. "The wonderful thing about MySpace and the wonderful think about the 'Net is it gives us an opportunity to interact with people in a real way, which is what it's supposed to be. People get tired of these sorts of puffy television ads that are overproduced. They want to see the real you, and that's a good thing."
The MTV/MySpace Presidential Dialogue with John Edwards will take place Thursday at 12 p.m. ET. The entire dialogue will be webcast live through both MTV.com and MySpaceTV.com, and will then be rebroadcast on MTV on Thursday at 7 p.m.