In the Senate, Democrats were bogged down debating troop withdrawals from Iraq. But across town last week, an ex-senator was talking about a different war: the war on poverty. John Edwards, the former veep candidate, has followed the issue at his think tank at the University of North Carolina. The result: a proposal to eliminate poverty in 30 years by raising the minimum wage, creating 1 million extra housing vouchers and reviving rural life with better community colleges and small-business centers. "I have the freedom to focus on something that I care about deeply," he told NEWSWEEK, "and work on it in great depth, which is very difficult to do if I were still in Washington."
It looks as if he's laying the foundation to get back there. He hasn't yet declared himself a presidential candidate, but he has wooed away an adviser to former Virginia governor Mark Warner, Edwards's rival to be the Southern alternative to Sen. Hillary Clinton in '08. Dave (Mudcat) Saunders, an architect of Warner's successful NASCAR-themed strategy in 2001, will join Edwards to reach out to former Democrats in rural areas. Edwards's embryonic campaign--his One America political committee--may be less splashy than his rivals' organizations, but he's already raised a healthy $6.1 million for '06 candidates by head-lining fund-raisers for them. And according to one recent Iowa poll, Edwards is the front runner for his party's '08 nomination.