NEW ORLEANS – Former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards jumped into the presidential race Wednesday a day earlier than he had planned, prodded by an Internet glitch to launch a candidacy focused on health care, poverty and other domestic issues.
The North Carolina Democrat's campaign accidentally went live with his election Web site a day before an announcement Thursday that was scheduled to use Hurricane-ravaged New Orleans as a backdrop.
The slip-up gave an unintended double-meaning to his campaign slogan on the John Edwards '08 Web site: "Tomorrow begins today."
Aides quickly shut down the errant Web site but could not contain news of the obvious, even in the shadows of former President Ford's death.
"Better a day earlier than a day late," said Jennifer Palmieri, an Edwards adviser.
Late Wednesday, Edwards announced his intentions to supporters in an e-mail. "I'm running to ask millions of Americans to take responsibility and take action to change our country and ensure America's greatness in the 21st century," he wrote.
Earlier, Edwards visited the site of his planned announcement for a photo opportunity. He did yard work at the home of Orelia Tyler, 54, whose house was gutted by Hurricane Katrina and is close to being rebuilt.
In his e-mail, Edwards said he chose to announce in New Orleans because it demonstrates the power people have to build America when they take responsibility instead of leaving it to Washington.
Edwards listed five priorities to change America. Among them: "Guaranteeing health care for every single American," "Strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty," "Leading the fight against global warming," and "Getting America and the world to break our addiction to oil."
He also listed "Providing moral leadership in the world — starting with Iraq, where we should begin drawing down troops, not escalating the war."
Edwards, 53, also issued a statement on Ford's death, saying he was deeply saddened by the news and calling the former Michigan Republican a "true leader."
"He called on us to never lose faith that we can change America," Edwards said.
Taking turns with about 30 young people shoveling loads of dirt in Tyler's backyard, Edwards declined to discuss the campaign, focusing instead on the slow recovery in New Orleans, where whole neighborhoods remain a wasteland.
"Anyone who's not concerned with the rate of recovery is not paying attention," said Edwards. He said finger-pointing is part of the problem, adding that the student volunteers he worked with provided an example of what can be accomplished through cooperation.
Edwards arrived promptly at 1:30 p.m., clad in jeans and a khaki work shirt. His aides kept more than two-dozen reporters and photographers at bay as he and the students prepared Tyler's yard for landscaping.
Tyler is still living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in her yard.
"I feel like a child with Santa Claus," Tyler said before Edwards arrived.
The son of a textile mill worker, Edwards has been on a fast track most of his life despite his up-by-the-bootstraps roots.
A standout law student who became a stunningly successful trial lawyer, Edwards vaulted from nowhere politically into the U.S. Senate and then onto the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket — all in less than six years.
In 1998, in his first bid for public office, Edwards defeated incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., a leading advocate for impeachment of President Clinton.
Edwards began building support for his first presidential bid shortly after arriving in the Senate. He quickly made a name for himself in Congress, using his legal background to help Democratic colleagues navigate the impeachment hearings.
Edwards launched a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2003 and quickly caught the eye of Democratic strategists. Although he won only the South Carolina primary, his skills on the trail, his cheerful demeanor, and his message of "two Americas" — one composed of the wealthy and privileged, and the other of the hardworking common man — excited voters, especially independents and moderate-leaning Democrats.
Edwards' handsome, youthful appearance also gave him a measure of star quality.
Those were among the qualities that led Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 standard bearer, to select Edwards as his running mate. It was a stunning success for someone who had majored in textile management as an undergraduate as a kind of insurance policy in case a law career didn't pan out.
Republicans have sought to cast Edwards as a money-chasing trial lawyer. It is an image that Edwards has tried to counter by arguing that he represented ordinary people wronged by big corporations.
"I spent most of my adult life representing kids and families against very powerful opponents, usually big insurance companies," he liked to say. "And my job was to give them a fair shake, to give them a fair chance."