How Will Edwards' Trial Skills Help Him in the Debate?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Oct. 5, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The Big Story With John Gibson" weeknights at 5 p.m. ET!

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Senator John Edwards used to connect with juries, now he is connecting with crowds on the campaign trail. Those courtroom skills could help him during Tuesday night's debate when he squares off against Vice President Dick Cheney. Will this trial-style of arguing actually work in his favor?

Here to discuss this is North Carolina lawyer, Jim Cooney.

Jim, today's "Big Question": Can John Edwards (search) use these legal skills that you've seen him use so well to help him in Tuesday's debate?

JIM COONEY, LAWYER: Oh, I don't think there's any question about it. What the courtroom does, and what Senator Edwards' great strength was, was dealing with the unscripted moment. And nothing is scripted, even though we try to plan it out as much as we can, particularly in this kind of a debate format. He's going need to react to access facts that he's been given and to put them together into kind of coherent story or coherent response and that's precisely what the courtroom teaches you after a time.

GIBSON: OK now, you actually went up against him in the courtroom. So what's his weakness?

COONEY: John really didn't really have many weaknesses. And that was the thing that surprised me the most about him.

GIBSON: Now Jim, that surprises me, too.

COONEY: Well, he was not the best at any given thing, there were people who gave better closing arguments, there were people who gave better directs, there were people who did better crosses, but what he did was he did everything at a very high level and then his real strength was he was able to connect with a jury in a way that I haven't seen in 20 years of law practice.


COONEY: He was able to bring them in.

GIBSON: All right, but that is a little bit different. Isn't it? I mean, he works a jury of 12 and now he's going to work a jury of 60 million.

COONEY: And I think you're exactly right, Mr. Gibson, because what he is doing is, he can sift, and talk, and blend in with the jurors a little bit, and he was able to do that in a very non-patronizing way so they immediately began to trust him. And he doesn't have that opportunity in a debate format, so his great strength may not come across very well in the context of this debate.

GIBSON: OK now, the other thing is that he, as you well know, throughout the democratic primaries, was the voice of positivism, if there's such a word — the voice of optimism. And he contrasts himself with Dick Cheney saying, you know, "Whatever world Dick Cheney (search) lives in, that's not my world. I'm not going to go at it that way." If you accept the notion that Dick Cheney is sort of a — you know, a stern uncle, telling you to take your medicine and the boogeyman's going to get you — how does positivism and — you know, optimism work against that?

COONEY: Well, I think what he's going do is he's going to transform that into a rhetorical device. In other words, he can ask questions, or he can make statements that imply a conclusion that, maybe a harsh conclusion, without him necessarily being harsh. And it really is a technique that he used well in the courtroom. I never saw him accuse a physician of being a bad person, but he certainly got many juries to conclude this otherwise good person, made a mistake under this set of circumstances, and he was able do that really, in much the same kind of style he's used on the campaign trial.

GIBSON: But, if he asks a rhetorical question that goes along the lines of — we now don't think we had very good reason to go to war — do we? When the American people in polling show — you know, by a vast majority, a significant majority, that we do. How do you think he could bring the public along with an idea they don't already accept?

COONEY: Well, and I don't think they ask it that way. I mean, I think he — he will be studying the facts in the same polls that you are and it may get asked in the sense of, exactly what was the reason we went to war? Was it weapons of mass destruction? Was it the war on terrorism? Was it removing Saddam Hussein (search)? I don't know because the story keeps changing. And, that's a way for him, again, to use a rhetorical question without necessarily coming across as overly harsh.

GIBSON: All right, Jim Cooney, went up against John Edwards in North Carolina courtrooms. Jim, thanks a lot. Appreciate your insight.

COONEY: Thank you.

Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.