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Bush Challenges Democratic VP Candidate's Qualifications - 2004-07-07


President Bush is questioning Senator John Edwards' qualifications to be vice president. One day after Democratic Presidential contender John Kerry announced his running mate, Mr. Bush traveled to Senator Edwards' home state.

The White House says it is just a coincidence, that the trip to North Carolina was planned long ago. Still, President Bush seemed eager to talk about John Edwards.

During a question and answer session with reporters, the president was asked to compare Senator Edwards' credentials to those of his own vice president, Dick Cheney. His response was brief.

"Dick Cheney can be president," he said.

It was another sign that the Bush-Cheney campaign is trying to keep the focus on the North Carolina senator's experience in government. John Edwards never held public office before he was elected to the Senate in 1998. Supporters of the president's re-election bid note that by the time Mr. Edwards came to Washington, Dick Cheney had already served as a congressman, White House chief of staff, and secretary of defense.

Senator Edwards comes from a state that has shifted in recent years from a Democratic Party voter base to one that is more Republican. President Bush won in North Carolina in 2000, and said he is convinced he will carry the state, and the south, once again. He suggested that even the addition of a son of the south as his running mate will not be enough to win southern support for John Kerry.

"They know me well," said Mr. Bush. "And I believe that I did well in the south last time, and I will do well in the south this time because the Senator from Massachusetts does not share their values."

The president went to North Carolina to raise money for the Republican Party, and call attention to the plight of some of his nominees to become federal judges.

Under U.S. law, judges who sit on the federal bench are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The federal courts can have a great impact with their rulings on domestic policies, and presidents choose nominees who mirror their views.

Democrats in the senate have used various parliamentary tactics to block action on some of the president's choices, saying they are far too conservative. The stalemate is expected to continue throughout the campaign, but the president is keeping pressure on the legislature in large part because the issue is important to his political base.

"I have been consistent in naming people to the bench that will faithfully interpret the law," he said. "I suspect that is one of the reasons why a minority of senators is blocking my nominees and creating a judicial emergency."

One of the senators who has worked actively to block some of the president's judicial nominees is John Edwards. A spokesman for Mr. Edwards said he will not back down, and continues to urge the president to pick nominees from, what he called, the political mainstream.