Although former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has not made any official announcements, observers note that "it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington" that he plans to make a second run for the White House.

"He’s got a pretty impressive schedule if he’s not running for president," said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Many Edwards advisers and supporters say they believe that he will formally announce his intentions sometime in early 2007. They say they are surprised at how soon other campaigns are coming together.

"The amazing thing is that it’s happening so early," said Lou D’Alessandro, a Democratic state senator from New Hampshire and a key Edwards ally.

"It’s a very fluid situation because it’s an open seat for the first time in a long time that people can remember … someone already in power (such as the incumbent vice president) is not looking to run," D’Alessandro said.

So far at least two Democrats — Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana — have announced plans to form exploratory committees. Other big names, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barak Obama, D-Ill., are reported to also be considering runs. Many political observers view Clinton as the candidate to beat.

For his part, Edwards is remaining mum. He told CBS News on Sunday that it was "safe to say I might very well" run for president, but he stopped short of making a formal announcement.

Edwards was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004. After the ticket lost to President Bush, he moved his family back to North Carolina. His wife, Elizabeth, was found to have breast cancer in the waning days of the campaign, but after chemotherapy is cancer-free. And although he returned to private life, he has not shied away from being a public presence. In 2005, he founded the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The center focuses on one of his primary passions — class disparity in America.

During the last year he has also logged thousands of miles traveling all over the country, advocating a minimum-wage increase and stumping for Democratic candidates. He has spent time in such key presidential-contest states as New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada.

During his run in 2004, Edwards’ lack of foreign-policy experience was frequently cited as one of his weaknesses. So he has been working alongside former Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y. — also a former vice-presidential candidate — as a co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Russian-American Relations. Edwards also traveled to Africa.

Democratic observers say they believe that Edwards has positioned himself well since 2004, but since it’s not even 2007, there are still unknowns, such as whether Obama will run. One national Democratic strategist suggested that an Obama run would hurt Edwards because he could detract from some of Edwards’ appeal as a fresh-faced outsider.

But Brad Bannon, another Democratic strategist, cautioned against declaring a primary winner — Obama, Clinton or Edwards — too soon.

"It would be a mistake to call the Democratic primary (now). The front-runner usually comes back down to earth during the course of the campaign," he said.

Edwards has raised nearly $2.5 million for his PAC during the 2006 election cycle, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report, dated Nov. 28. Edwards did not donate any money to candidates this election cycle, instead using all the money from his PAC to pay for expenditures related to his PAC activities, including staff salaries and travel, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

(Mary M. Shaffrey can be reached in at mshaffrey(at)

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