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N.D., Minnesota Dems praise pick

BISMARCK - Sen. John Edwards brings a rock-star element to the presidential ticket, North Dakota Democrats said Tuesday, pleased that their convention keynote speaker is the vice presidential candidate.

BISMARCK - Sen. John Edwards brings a rock-star element to the presidential ticket, North Dakota Democrats said Tuesday, pleased that their convention keynote speaker is the vice presidential candidate.

Minnesota Democrats said they expect a peppier campaign with the North Carolina senator added to John Kerry's ticket. Democrats in both states said the populist appeal and energy of Edwards will significantly strengthen Kerry's campaign.

Edwards' first speech after dropping his own presidential bid on March 3 was at the North Dakota Democratic-NPL convention in Fargo on April 3, at the invitation of Sen. Byron Dorgan.

"His speech to the convention was captivating," said Tim Purdon of Bismarck, who was co-chairman of Edwards' presidential campaign in North Dakota.

"He was mobbed trying to get off the floor."


Edwards' stirring stump speech at the state convention left delegates "ecstatic," said state party Executive Director Vern Thompson, who called him the best stump speaker he's ever seen.

"When John Edwards got done speaking, it was as close to a rock star in politics as you're going to see," he said.

Edwards went immediately after to a party fund-raiser, where "he just dove into that room," Purdon said.

"He is a natural, one of the best campaigners I've ever seen."

Edwards finished fourth with 10 percent of the vote in North Dakota's Feb. 3 presidential caucuses. The three who finished ahead of him - Kerry with 51 percent, Wesley Clark with 24 percent and Howard Dean with 12 percent - had all visited North Dakota at least once in the months before the caucus. Purdon had hoped to get Edwards here, but it didn't materialize.

"That hurt us," he said Tuesday.

Like Edwards, Purdon is a trial lawyer. It's a profession that's a fund-raising plus, said the Center for Responsive Politics. Edwards raised more money for his campaign from trial lawyers - $11.6 million - than the other Democratic presidential contenders.

But that isn't why Purdon was drawn to him, he said.


Purdon and Thompson said part of Edwards' appeal is his life story, having come from rural, humble beginnings.

Purdon said that background and Edwards' "up by the bootstraps" success is what appealed to him.

Edwards also spoke at the Minnesota Democrats' state convention in May, one of a number of trips he made to the state.

He was "mobbed" there, too, party members said.

"Working the rope line was like working the rope line for Elvis Presley because of folks who wanted to touch him or get a photograph or get an autograph," DFL Party Chairman Mike Erlandson said on Edwards.

Democrats praised Edwards as a centrist.

Dorgan, too, said Edwards showed during the presidential primaries that he connects with people. He's invited Edwards back to the state this fall.

Sen. Kent Conrad said Edwards is an outstanding choice, someone who is "fully prepared to be president of the United States, if the need arose."


With Kerry's sister, Diana Kerry, in Fargo Tuesday night for a fund-raiser, the timing couldn't have been better, Thompson said. He said the announcement Tuesday morning boosted interest in the Kerry fund-raiser.

He said phones at party headquarters in Bismarck were busy all day with people calling to gush about the selection of Edwards.

One of the Minnesota delegates to the Democratic National Convention later this month said she's looking forward to watching Edwards in the fall debates.

"I just keep imagining him next to Cheney when they are having their vice presidential debate," said RoseAnn Zimbro of Minneapolis. "People are going to say, 'Why do we have this old guy when there is this young guy with all this energy, enthusiasm, ideas and go-get-it attitude,' " she said.

Republicans said the choice of Edwards was no surprise and won't help Kerry's election prospects.

"Democrats now have two of the most liberal senators at the head of their presidential ticket," said Minnesota Republican Chairman Ron Eibensteiner.

North Dakota Republican Party Executive Director Jason Stverak said voters will make their decision based on President Bush or Kerry.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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