Kerry Aiming for Strength With Pick

WASHINGTON -- In John Edwards, Senator John Kerry selected a running mate who embodies the very attributes that some Democrats worry that Kerry lacks: A vigorous campaign presence, an engaging personal manner and a crisp message that stirred Democrats from Iowa to New Hampshire.

Kerry even took a risk or two in compensating for his own shortcomings, embracing a trial lawyer who has less governmental experience than any other major vice presidential candidate in at least 20 years.

"The fact that he's big enough to accept somebody on the ticket that has that kind of impressive and shiny personality -- the public will see that," said Walter Mondale, the former vice president. "He was looking for someone who could add strength -- not just geographically -- to the ticket, and help him get elected."

As several Democrats argued Tuesday, Edwards' selection will probably reconfigure the geographic calculus of both campaigns, putting new regions in play. As a trial lawyer and a politician, Edwards has over the years styled himself as a champion of the working class, the son of a millworker who grew up in the rural South. It is a background that suggests that Edwards will be a strong salesman for the Kerry ticket in rural parts of the Midwest, where even a shift in a handful of votes could be critical.

And while few Democrats believe it is likely that Edwards can win his own state, North Carolina -- the betting among Democratic officials is that Edwards would have had a tough time winning re-election as senator -- his presence on the ticket means that the White House may be forced to divert some resources into southern states that it would just as soon take for granted.

Yet for all the benefits, there are decided risks to the choice of Edwards, as even some Democrats said Tuesday. While Kerry insisted that he would name a running mate whose qualifications to step in as president during a time of war were unassailable, he chose a 51-year-old who has served just five years in the Senate.

Before Kerry even alerted his supporters of his decision in a mass e-mail message Tuesday morning, Bush's camp began pounding Edwards' qualifications, invoking the words of skepticism Kerry had voiced about Edwards during the primary.

But if this campaign has proven anything, it is that Kerry does not take big risks unless he has to. And considering the number of Democrats who urged Kerry to take this course, and the fact that presidential candidates typically tap their closest primary competitor, this would hardly qualify as a huge risk.

James Johnson, who headed the search process for Kerry (and who was Mondale's campaign chairman in 1984), said that at his very first meeting with Kerry about the vice presidential search, the senator made clear that he did not want Johnson to discount any prospective candidate with whom he quarreled during the primary, or who might eclipse him.

In the end, this might be the single most instructive thing about the choice that Kerry made Tuesday. He is, it seems, not very different from the Democratic voters he encountered across the country this year: Ravenous for victory against Bush, and prepared to do almost whatever it takes to win.