Who are these pundits who all love Edwards now?
I mean, I can see why they’re tired of Howard Dean. As Mark Steyn put it:

Mr. Dean, who got a bad-back deferment from Vietnam and then went skiing, can’t match Mr. McCain’s resume and doesn’t try. When you go to a Dean angerthon, it’s all negative: anti-Bush, antiwar, anti-tax cuts. And, in the end, when you’ve sated your angry base, the non-deranged members of the electorate generally want something positive, or at any rate a little less snarly. There’s a world of difference between Bill Clinton saying he feels your pain and Mr. Dean saying he feels your rage.

John Edwards, by contrast, is so nice that he is a breath of fresh air.
But will Edwards’ ethos of niceness survive the negative popular stereotypes about trial lawyers?
This will give an idea of what his enemies are saying:

Does anyone believe that ?President? John Edwards would sign any tort reform legislation trying to rein in rampant abuses of our legal system? Of course not. As a distinguished (meaning rich) former trial lawyer, he understands much better than the rest of us that shopping for aggrieved clients to sue deep pocketed pigeons for phantasmagorical verdicts must be exactly what the Founding Fathers intended.
Those lawsuits are estimated to cost every man, woman and child in this country $650 a year, but in the world of John Edwards and his cronies at the trough, it is infinitely better for us to give that money to trial lawyers than spend it on SUVs, which may roll over on us, or Big Macs, which may make us fat.
Senator Edwards? campaign has said it will return the entire $10,000 contributed by employees of Turner & Associates PA. What the hell, $7,390,000 is still the largest take among presidential candidates. An Edwards spokesperson also said the ?campaign has no plans to examine the legality of other contributions,? but would surely act ?if presented with information about that.?
That?s okay, because The New York Times is reporting that the ?Justice Department?s public integrity section has opened a criminal investigation? into the donations made to Edwards by employees of the Turner law firm. Somehow, we have the feeling, and it?s just a feeling, that this investigation will be more vigorously pursued than some of recent memory.
Cynics might venture that all that trial lawyer money for Edwards? presidential bid may represent the first time their deep pockets get clipped. Polls in North Carolina steadily show Edwards losing his own state by a landslide in a head-to-head match with President Bush, should the president decide to run for re-election.

To be fair to Edwards, (at least according to Washington Monthly), by no means does the man conform to the stereotype of the greedy, ambulance-chasing trial lawyer; he’s honest, hard-working, always prepared, and never took the sleazy cases which receive the negative media attention:

Opposing such elemental reforms illustrates the bunker mentality that fuels low public opinion of trial lawyers. The question is whether Edwards will succumb to such thinking. If he does, he’ll fall into the trap the White House is setting for him. Throughout his career, Edwards has insulated himself from the worst practices of the legal profession through his own impeccable conduct as an attorney. But Republicans, if they’re smart, will try to goad Edwards into defending the worst practices of his former colleagues. If they succeed, they may discover Edwards’ Achilles heel: As fine a lawyer as he is, Edwards is captive to the romantic ideals of justice he absorbed as a young man, his own experience upholding them, and the paranoid self-righteousness most trial lawyers develop. In multiple interviews, pressed about the problems with lawyers other than himself, and whether he’d support any measures to discourage frivolous lawsuits, he dodged the questions by insisting, again and again, that he hadn’t engaged in such behavior. His resistance to examining problems in the legal profession was palpable. Finally, exasperatedly, he offered a noncommittal nod toward reform: “I can tell you in general that if there are proposals that would deal with so-called frivolous lawsuits, without taking away the rights of ordinary people, then that’s certainly something that I could support.”

The problem is that regardless of Edwards’ own sterling performance as a trial lawyer, popular stereotypes still matter to the voters. This is from PBS News Hour’s biography:

While Edwards’ legal career proved very profitable, enabling him to self-finance much of his campaign, Republicans have seen it as a liability. As the Bush administration moved forward on tort reform in 2001, it used the opportunity to try to eliminate Edwards as a presidential contender. “America won’t elect John Edwards president for the same reason we’ve never elected a used car salesman president,” declared GOP pollster Frank Luntz. “America hates trial lawyers.”

If the 2004 election becomes a plebiscite on trial lawyers, that might help George W. Bush.
Here’s the Cato Institute on Edwards:

Edwards became rich as a trial lawyer and gets most of his campaign funds from his fellow plaintiffs of the bar. He has gotten about 60 percent of his funding for the presidential campaign from other lawyers. There’s nothing illegal or immoral about that. Lawyers also have a right to participate in politics.
Having trial lawyers for friends and supporters, however, contravenes the image Edwards hopes to cultivate as an outsider who will stand up to the special interests in D.C. Fairly or not, trial lawyers seem to have found their own presidential candidate in John Edwards.
Edwards will say trial lawyers fight for the little guy against big corporations who have done them wrong. His opponents will surely point out that two thirds of Edwards’ money comes from donors giving the legal maximum of $2,000. That may make his populist rhetoric sound hollow.
We should not be concerned that John Edwards’ campaign broke some campaign finance rules. We should wonder why he has not attracted broad support from Democratic donors. Americans hope to elect a president who seeks, to the best of his ability, the good of the nation as a whole. For now, John Edwards seems more of a lobbyist than a leader.

These days, I think Edwards is more than a lobbyist. He’s shown himself to have genuinely refreshing leadership qualities. His niceness stands in sharp contrast to Dean’s combativeness.
Plus, the man is attractive (an observation I would not make about most candidates). While the latter point ought to be irrelevant, the Iowa polls show that he has a larger gender gap than any other candidate — with 29% of women supporting him (as opposed to only 23% men).
Nice and cute!
But can it beat Bush?
UPDATE: Dick Morris weighs in on Edwards, and thinks maybe his “captivating manner” can beat Bush:

While his trial-lawyer campaign contributions will likely rise up to bite him as the race progresses, he is a canny politician with a captivating manner and a trial lawyer’s sense of how to appeal to the voters. If he wins, Bush is in for a fight. (Via InstaPundit.)