North Florida Democrats Hail Edwards; Some See His Selection Boosting Support in a Section of the State That Kerry Alone Might Not Gain

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Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

John Kerry's pick of John Edwards as his running mate has some Democrats hoping it will help pick up support in a part of Florida the Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate alone might not.

That would be this part of Florida, the generally moderate to conservative North Florida with a large segment of African-American voters.

Kerry's choice of John Edwards, 51, a charismatic senator from North Carolina, went over well with Democrats, who hoped to take advantage of his easy style and Southern roots. Even when it meant passing over native son Sen. Bob Graham, who was considered as he was in 1988, 1992 and 2000. He applauded the selection of Edwards, whom he said will be a "very effective partner with John Kerry, spreading a message of optimism and hope to all Americans."

But Republicans quickly called Edwards "a disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal," seeking to dull any appeal to undecided moderate voters. They noted Edwards has not finished his first term in the Senate, worked as a trial lawyer and voted against tax cuts pushed by President Bush. None are qualities that play well for moderate voters, particularly in North Florida where Bush won easily in 2000, GOP officials said.

"You have the most liberal Democratic senator now paired with the fourth most liberal senator," said Joseph Agostini, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, noting the recent non-partisan ranking by National Journal.

Democrats cast Edwards as able to fish regional votes Kerry might not reach as a Northeasterner. Edwards has often campaigned as the optimistic son of a Carolina textile worker who fought against "two Americas," one for the rich and a tougher country for others. He tried to appeal to improving health care and jobs for working people, and exhibit racial understanding -- planks important in North Florida.

Some black voters have criticized Kerry's outreach to them. State Sen. Tony Hill of Jacksonville, a black Democrat, said Edwards has the biography to speak about working his way up in life and handling civil rights issues.

"I think Edwards brings . . . a common touch. He brings a sort of charisma, and a lot of people say that's missing in Kerry," said Hill, a labor organizer with the Service Employees International Union. …