CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – John Edwards (search) came downstairs and found 5-year-old son Jack on the floor, arranging toy trucks in a column.
"What are you doing?" the former North Carolina senator asked.
"Making a motorcade," came the exuberant reply.
A year after Democrats John Kerry (search) and Edwards lost the White House election, young Jack still may think about the heady days of last fall. His father, however, has moved on — without a Secret Service (search) escort.
—He is traveling the country, trying to rally college students to the cause of fighting poverty in the U.S.
—He is presiding over a new poverty center at the University of North Carolina.
—He is laying the groundwork for a possible return to the political spotlight as a presidential candidate in 2008.
A little bit of all three was on his mind when he made a stop at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
"I'm in a very forward-looking, positive state of mind," said Edwards, while hundreds of students began to assemble in a nearby common. "I mean, being able to take on a big cause in a really serious way is an extraordinary thing."
A year ago Tuesday, Edwards and Kerry, the Massachusetts senator, were in Boston, awaiting the general election results. There was uncertainty about the outcome, especially in Ohio. At 2 a.m., Kerry sent his running mate to address the waning crowd in Copley Square.
"John Kerry and I made a promise to the American people that in this election, every vote would count and every vote would be counted," Edwards said. "Tonight, we are keeping our word and we will fight for every vote."
Hours later, the senators agreed the cause was lost and conceded defeat. Almost simultaneously, Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Two months later, Edwards surrendered his Senate seat.
Today, Elizabeth Edwards has successfully completed her cancer treatments and is regaining her strength. The couple sold their Washington town house and built a new home in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Edwards is focused on poverty, a theme that emerged from his childhood as a son of a mill worker. It was the basis for his stump speech about the "two Americas" he saw emerging as the wealthy pulled away from the less fortunate.
"When I saw up close what was happening to them, honestly I remember thinking to myself, man, given my personal background, without a little luck, I could be in the same place a lot of these people are," Edwards said.
Hurricane Katrina (search), he believes, opened the rest of the country's eyes to the plight of the hidden poor in places such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
"The hard question is will that window of opportunity stay open or will it close?" Edwards said. "I think whether it stays open depends on whether we have people like these college students who take it on as a cause."
Altruism aside, the poverty work also provides Edwards a platform to maintain his political viability.
He spoke this year at the annual steak fry organized by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in first caucus state Iowa.
Also, Edwards has avoided making the pledge that Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., made after he and presidential nominee Al Gore lost the 2000 race to Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney: Edwards refuses to declare that he will forgo his own White House bid in 2008 if Kerry decides to run again.
There is a simmering rivalry between the two, ignited by Edwards' postelection remarks in which he said he had unsuccessfully urged Kerry to fight back after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) in the summer of 2004 challenged Kerry's Vietnam record.
Just last month, Edwards and Kerry competed for media attention on the same day as they delivered dueling speeches decrying the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Last week, when Edwards came to Massachusetts, he made a special point to call Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and tell him he was in the state. No such call was made to Kerry, although Edwards said the two are friends and still talk regularly.
"This is my cause now," Edwards declared, dismissing the political talk for another day. "This is what I'm spending my energy and life blood on, and if I can do something serious, I'll be very happy with what I've spent my life on."