Kerry, Edwards an Ideologically Close Fit

John Kerry (search) has picked a running mate who sees the issues of the day more or less his way, despite their once-pitched rivalry.

In the Democratic nomination dustup, John Edwards (search) did his best to draw distinctions with the leader of the pack. He branded Kerry a Washington insider who hasn't lived a sufficiently humble life to understand how policy affects people.

In turn, Kerry portrayed the freshman senator, nine years his junior, as wet behind the ears on foreign policy.

But their agendas differed more by price tags and priority than by direction. Both brought forward ambitious health care plans, proposed putting billions more into education, aimed to raise taxes on the rich, stuck to Democratic verities on social issues and supported the Iraq war only to have qualms later.

In one nomination spat, Edwards bragged that his plan to expand health insurance would cover just a few million fewer people than Kerry's, and at much less cost. He said his rival "would drive us deeper and deeper into deficit."

In another, Edwards voiced opposition to trade agreements Kerry supported, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement. He used that issue to illustrate to voters how he — unlike the son of privilege he was trying to beat — understood the pain of a mill town closing from foreign competition.

Kerry coolly refused to concede the two were far apart on trade, saying the main difference was that Edwards chose to spend so much time talking about it.

Both slipped into vagaries on the subject, which comes in handy in reconciling positions now.

Edwards, for all his criticisms, did not propose revoking NAFTA (search). Kerry, playing to Democratic activists who outright object to free trade, has proposed putting all existing agreements under review, while stopping well short of saying he would try to reopen them. Both say new trade deals should have stronger labor and environmental safeguards.

Edwards supports the death penalty while Kerry opposes it except for terrorists. But capital punishment is far from the top tier of presidential campaign issues.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who studies a range of campaign issues as director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says Kerry and Edwards have differed more on emphasis than substance, and managed to fight it out for the nomination without much bad blood between them.

"Ordinarily at this point, you'd have a lot of Edwards' statements attacking Kerry," she said. But "Edwards didn't do a lot of attacking in the (primary) debates. He did a lot of advocacy."

Edwards, who made his own wealth as a trial lawyer, emphasized poverty in the primary campaign, speaking of "two Americas" while most major contenders catered heavily to middle-income voters.

Kerry, in welcoming Edwards aboard Tuesday, declared "that concern is at the center of this campaign. ... John Edwards and I are now going to fight to build one America for all Americans."

And there was no more ribbing about Edwards' maturity — "When I came back from Vietnam in 1969, I don't know if John Edwards was out of diapers," Kerry had cracked during the campaign.

On Tuesday, Kerry praised Edwards' experience on the Senate Intelligence Committee and his "unshakable commitment to having a military that is second to nobody in the world."

As the No. 2 on the ticket, Edwards has fewer accommodations to make in his positions than Al Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, did in 2000.

Lieberman, while sharing certain centrist tendencies with Gore, had to set aside differences on several major issues — his support for experimental private school vouchers and a national missile defense, and his openness to partial privatization of Social Security.

One of Edwards' biggest inconsistencies in joining the ticket is not with Kerry, but himself. He repeatedly said during the primaries he would not become a rival's running mate.

"No, no," Edwards said at one point. "Final."