NEW YORK – John Edwards (search) will be the No. 2 man on the Democratic ticket for the White House, but some Washington insiders are wondering if he has the experience to take the helm of the country if John Kerry (search) were unable to lead.
"Does Edwards bring gravitas to the ticket — someone who can step right in and take over as president? I don't think so," said Fred Barnes, co-host of FOX News' "The Beltway Boys." "But zip and excitement — he has it … I think Kerry and other Democrats think he has great potential."
Kerry supporters and staunch Democrats argue that Edwards has what it takes to steer the country effectively on the right course when it comes to foreign policy and domestic issues, whether he be vice president or becomes president in the case of Kerry's death, resignation or removal from office.
"I think, yes, absolutely, he's ready to take over and of course that ends up becoming the most important thing for the vice president," said Elaine Kamarck, a former senior adviser to Al Gore.
Edwards is still finishing up his first term in the Senate, and that has led to charges that he may lack the experience in international affairs, particularly in wartime, to be a credible candidate to fill Kerry's shoes if the Massachusetts senator beats President Bush (search) in November.
"I think there are some who are going to be surprised … [Kerry didn't choose someone] with more of a wartime, security credential … but look, let's face it, with John Kerry's excitement-deficit syndrome problem, any Democrat with a heartbeat would be excited about this ticket," said GOP strategist Rick Davis.
"I think this had nothing to do with jobs, nothing to do with current issues, this had all to do with polling," Davis said. "This is a marriage made in polling heaven and we'll see if it pans out in the long run."
Davis did note, however, that Edwards' trial-lawyer experience might help him in debates with Vice President Cheney (search) — who has extensively more international experience — as the general election nears.
"It’ll be interesting to see how boned up Edwards can get up on those issues," Davis said.
Sen. Kit Bond (search), R-Mo., said while Edwards is "the kind of guy you'd like to have breakfast with …we are talking about leading the world in very difficult times when you need strong chief executives and neither one of [Edwards and Kerry], in my view, has that record."
When Bush was voted into the White House, many analysts criticized him for not having enough foreign policy experience — or any political experience for that matter outside his time as governor of Texas. Observers said Bush's pick of Cheney as his running mate helped balance out the deficit.
Now, Democratic Party faithfuls who honed in on Bush's lack of experience say Edwards' inexperience isn't an issue and he has the ability to step in for Kerry if needed.
"John Edwards has a lot better experience to take over this office than George Bush had when he was running. I think he'd be a great person to step in there" as president if needed, said Doug Hattaway, a former Gore campaign spokesman.
"John Edwards is a quick study — he is someone who is very thoughtful, smart and has focused on issues to learn them all" during his Senate career and his own presidential campaign, added Don Baer, a senior Clinton adviser.
Democratic media strategist Rich Davis pointed out that Edwards has six years of working in the Senate, has forged relationships with Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., on a patients' bill of rights and spent six years on the Senate Intelligence Committee (search).
Edwards "is very well-versed in foreign policy and the threats we face as a country, so I don't think experience is a question at all," the Democratic Davis said.
But Bond said national security, which polls show Bush is believed to be better at handling than Kerry, is too important to leave in the hands of someone who may be hesitant to take difficult action.
"This is a war for our safety and security … we have to carry the battle to them in hopes of preventing another 9/11 on our soil," Bond said.
Aside from foreign policy, Democratic analysts say a Kerry-Edwards administration would do a lot more for domestic policy than the Bush-Cheney one has, particularly with Edwards' strong focus on helping the middle class.
"We need to pay attention to the middle-class families here at home who have been ignored by the Bush-Cheney administration," Hattaway said.
Plus, Rich Davis added, Edwards' "life experiences" help boost his qualifications for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The son of a textile-mill worker and small-store worker, Edwards was the first in his family to go to college and he succeeded as a trial lawyer.
"I think he's very prepared … I don't think it's insignificant that he comes from a place that many Americans come from and has reached a place many Americans aspire to," Davis said.