John Edwards Biography

U.S. Representative (1953–)
John Edwards served in the U.S. Senate from 1998 to 2004. He was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in the 2004 election, and twice ran for president.


John Edwards was born June 10, 1953 in Seneca, South Carolina. In Congress, he championed quality health care and better schools. In 2004, Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry chose him to be his running mate. He unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008. In June 2011 Edwards was charged with conspiracy and campaign finance violations connected to his 2008 presidential run. In May 2012, he was found not guilty on one of four counts of illegal campaign contribution. Mistrials were declared for the other five charges that Edwards received in 2011, which included conspiracy and false statements.

Early Years

Politician. Born June 10, 1953 in Seneca, South Carolina. The son of a mill worker and shop owner, John Edwards was raised in the small town of Robbins, North Carolina. His parents, Wallace Edwards and his wife Bobbie, struggled to make ends meet early in their marriage. In fact, when John was born his father had to borrow money to pay the hospital the $100 to bring his wife and son home.

John Edwards revered his father, a tough, street-smart man who taught his son to stand-up for himself. One story recounts a six-year-old Edwards coming home and complaining to his father about getting beat up. "Don't bring that stuff home," Wallace Edwards said. "You go out there and fight for yourself."

Wallace was also a hard worker. By his son's third birthday, he'd moved the family five times around the Carolinas, the result of promotions and his own desire to carve out a better life. Eventually, the Edwards family, which had started out in a public housing project, had a home of its own on a tree-lined street.

While not an exceptional student in high school, Edwards got decent grades and then enrolled at North Carolina State University, where he proved to be a hard worker himself and graduated with honors in 1974. He earned his law degree in 1977 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Edwards made his career and fortune as a trial lawyer, mostly representing families and children against large corporations and the insurance industry.

Political Years

In 1998, John Edwards, a political novice, brought this spirit of advocacy to the political arena, running for and winning a seat in the United States Senate by unseating a Republican incumbent. It didn't hurt that Edwards tapped his own fortune to help underwrite the campaign, contributing $3 million alone to secure the party's nomination.

In Congress, Edwards championed familiar causes: quality health care, better schools, protecting civil liberties and saving Social Security and Medicare. As a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Edwards also worked to strengthen national defense and homeland security.

In July 2004, after failing to capture the Democratic nomination for President, the party's nominee, John Kerry chose Edwards to be his running mate. In November 2004, after a hard-fought and often bitter campaign, Kerry conceded the presidential election to incumbent George W. Bush.

In December 2006, Edwards, now retired from the U.S. Senate, announced his entry into the 2008 Presidential election. Building off his previous trial law experience, Edwards largely ran as a populist. Despite his name recognition, however, Edwards was still considered an underdog to win the White House.

After several disappointing finishes in the primaries and caucuses, Edwards suspended his campaign on Jan. 30, 2008. He endorsed Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois on May 14 during a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Family Life

Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, met as law students at Chapel Hill. They married in 1977 and had four children: Catharine, Emma Claire, and Jack. Their first child, Wade, died in 1996 in a car accident.

With her own personal appeal, Elizabeth, who retired from her own law practice after her son's death, proved to be an important political asset for Edwards. She could be charming, funny, and her personal story, which included being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, showed her to be a fighter.

For several years, Elizabeth's cancer was in remission. But in 2007 it returned. In spite of her diagnosis, Elizabeth continued to be a presence on her husband's campaign.

Personal Trouble

On August 8, 2008, Edwards admitted to repeatedly lying during his presidential campaign about having an extramarital affair with a former staffer. In an interview with ABC's Nightline, Edwards admitted he had an affair with 44-year-old campaign staffer Rielle Hunter. It was also revealed that Edwards fathered a daughter with Hunter, and attempted to hide the child's existence from his family and colleagues.

Edwards and Elizabeth split in 2010. On December 7 of that year, she passed away from cancer.

Edwards' dalliances with Hunter would come back to haunt him in 2011. In March of that year, voicemail messages obtained by the U.S. Department of Justice allegedly revealed Edwards' attempt to cover up the affair during the peak of his 2008 campaign for the White House. Through this and other evidence, the justice department revealed that Edwards spent nearly a million dollars of campaign money to keep his mistress in hiding. In May 2011, the United States Department of Justice decided to pursue criminal charges against Edwards, claiming that he violated campaign laws.

On June 3, 2011, a federal grand jury officially indicted Edwards on charges of conspiracy, false statements and four counts of illegal campaign contributions.

Edwards had to face these charges in late April 2012, when his trial began in Greensboro, North Carolina. More details of his affair with Rielle Hunter came to light during the testimony of several former aides and other associates. According to their statements, there was an effort to hide Hunter from the press once she became pregnant. She traveled by private plane and stayed in luxurious resorts in California, Florida and Colorado. All of these expenses were allegedly paid for using campaign funds.

On May 31, 2012, after nine days of deliberation by a jury, Edwards was found not guilty on one of four counts of illegal campaign contributions. Mistrials were declared on the five other counts against Edwards, which included conspiracy and false statements.

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