When John Kerry tapped the 51-year-old Edwards as his well-coiffed, easy-on-the-eyes running mate, TIME noticed his bold ambitions and the ease with which he transitioned from his own presidential aspiration to second fiddle. TIME’s cover story on the “gleam team” noted how Edwards’ toothy grin and suave speeches aligned with the “personal chemistry” Kerry was going for, even though Edwards’ political record was notably thin. The story also made much of “Mr. Personality” and his fruitful assertiveness — political assets which would later come to be seen as liabilities following revelations of the extramarital affair which would drive him out of politics.
Climbing Kilimanjaro cold is more or less what Edwards has done this year, turning a long-shot bid for the White House into a spot on the Democratic ticket. Win or lose this fall, Edwards in many ways has already won: he has beaten the odds and, at 51, will almost certainly take his place as a leading figure in the Democratic Party for years to come. His out-of-nowhere performance this year would not surprise those who have known him since he scraped his way out of Robbins, N.C., the mill town he talks about at every stop and in every speech. That’s because shooting the moon has long been Edwards’ strongest game.
Next Dick Cheney, 2000