(Fixes fifth paragraph to make clear punishments were for each count)

* Two unsuccessful runs for presidential nomination

* Despite wealth, campaigned as "champion for regular people"

* Son of mill workers, first in family to attend college

By Colleen Jenkins

May 31 (Reuters) - As a highly successful lawyer and a fast-rising politician, John Edwards grew accustomed to people voting for him.

With his boyish looks and a sincere demeanor, he won enough jurors' votes in courtrooms to become a multimillionaire as one of the top personal injury lawyers in the nation. In 1998, in his first political campaign, voters sent Edwards to Washington as a senator from North Carolina. Six years later he was the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee.

But Edwards' fortunes would tumble in 2008 as he admitted that he had cheated on his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, during his second presidential campaign. His star was further diminished by an indictment in June 2011 on federal campaign finance charges.

Edwards, 58, chose to fight allegations that he schemed to use nearly $1 million from two supporters to hush up his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy with his child.

He faced high stakes by maintaining his innocence and standing trial but won on Thursday when a jury acquitted him on one of the six counts against him and declared itself deadlocked on the other five. If convicted, Edwards could have been sentenced to up to five years and fined $250,000 on each count.

Edwards, the first in his family to go to college, had long believed in the U.S. justice system.

"The 12 souls who spend full days, full weeks, or sometimes long months sitting only a few feet from you get to know you almost as well as you know yourself," he wrote in his 2004 book, "Four Trials."

"My faith in the wisdom of ordinary people took root in the mill towns of my youth. But the juries of my adulthood deepened that faith."

Those juries gave Edwards, the son of a small-town mill worker, and his clients a string of huge damage awards against corporations and hospitals. His political debut was equally successful as he upset incumbent Republican Senator Lauch Faircloth.


EYES ON THE WHITE HOUSE

Edwards chose not to seek a second Senate term so that he could focus on running for president in 2004, and he entered the primary elections as a potential fresh face for Democrats. Despite his wealth, Edwards campaigned as "a champion for regular people" who did not like the idea of "two Americas" - one for the wealthy and one for those struggling to get ahead.

Edwards was the last major challenger to Senator John Kerry and once Kerry secured the Democratic nomination, he chose Edwards to be his vice presidential running mate in hopes of bringing a jolt of energy and charisma to the tight race to unseat President George W. Bush.

In the end, Kerry and Edwards fell short but many observers said Edwards held his own during the vice presidential debate with Dick Cheney, an experienced Washington insider.

The exposure and experience Edwards gained as the vice presidential candidate in 2004 prompted him to be one of the first Democrats to enter the 2008 presidential race.

This time running as an outsider, Edwards picked up where he left off by stressing the need to help the underprivileged and impoverished. To appeal to the anti-war wing of the party, he apologized for his 2002 vote authorizing the war in Iraq.

Edwards was well received in some early primary and caucus states but still ran third in most national polls to then-senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.


WIFE'S CANCER RETURNS

Elizabeth Edwards had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2004 the day after the Kerry ticket was defeated by Bush. The 2008 presidential race was only a few months old when Edwards announced that his wife was again suffering from cancer - this time an incurable form. Despite months of treatment ahead, the one-time law school sweethearts agreed he should stay in the race.

Testimony at Edwards' campaign finance trial made clear another personal drama was going on away from the campaign spotlight.

Edwards had begun an affair with Hunter after meeting her at a New York City hotel in February 2006. She became pregnant with his child in 2007, setting in motion a cover-up that included money from supporters Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Fred Baron being used to support Hunter.

Dogged by rumors and tabloid newspaper coverage of the affair, disappointing showings in early-state nominating contests and criticism over $400 haircuts, Edwards suspended his presidential campaign in January 2008.

Prosecution witnesses said Edwards wanted the Hunter affair kept quiet to hide it from his wife and because he still had ambitions of being named the vice presidential candidate, attorney general or a Supreme Court justice.

In August 2008 Edwards admitted the relationship with Hunter but did not concede paternity of their child until January 2010. That came just ahead of the release of a book by former aide Andrew Young, who said that at Edwards' request he had falsely claimed responsibility for the child and let Hunter live with him and his wife.

The Edwardses separated after 32 years of marriage, and Elizabeth died Dec. 7, 2010.

The couple's 30-year-old daughter Cate, the oldest of their three surviving children, accompanied her father to court most days during his trial in Greensboro, North Carolina, about an hour's drive from the Chapel Hill home where he lives with his school-aged children Emma Claire and Jack.

The Edwardses' teenage son, Wade, died in a 1996 car crash.

Quinn, the 4-year-old daughter from Edwards' affair, lives with Hunter in Charlotte. Hunter's spokeswoman would not discuss the status of her relationship with Edwards but said the former senator sees his child often.

"They raise their daughter together," spokeswoman RoseMarie Terenzio said. (Additional reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Bill Trott)

Below, a recap of Edwards' relationship with Hunter:
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  • Love At First Sight?

    "And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"

  • An Extraordinary Night

    "We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"

  • The Oddest Connection He Had Ever Felt

    "Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."

  • 'I Had To Sleep With Him'

    "I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."

  • Falling In Love

    "I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."

  • Here's ... Johnny!

    "Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."

  • Knight In Shining Armor?

    "I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."

  • On Her Relationship Status

    "I am not engaged."

  • Why She's Talking Now

    "I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."

  • Not A Gold Digger

    "I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."

  • 'The Wrath Of Elizabeth Is A Mighty Wrath'

    "And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."

  • 'I Was A Bit Promiscuous'

    "I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."

  • A Toxic Relationship

    "[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."

  • 'I Don't Really Believe He Was A Politician'

    "Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."

  • Not A 'Home Wrecker'

    "And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."

  • Naming Frances Quinn Hunter

    "Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."

  • Was Andrew Young In Love With Edwards?

    "Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."

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