Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

What John Edwards Does For Mr. Kerry's Image
Thursday, July 8, 2004

by Dominick Schirripa

Many have praised John Edwards for his political skills, especially in campaigning, and have lauded his selection as John Kerry's running mate. They point to his youth and good-looks and charm and other such qualities. Republicans are generally quick to respond that he is inexperienced, too liberal, a trial-lawyer, etc.

What I have not heard is anybody's opinion of what John Edwards does for Mr. Kerry's image. Kerry has been portrayed as a dour, aloof New England patrician. Isn't it quite likely that the youthful smiling face and southern drawl of John Edwards will only make Kerry look more dour, more aloof and more patrician than he already does? And won't that serve to Kerry's disadvantage? Also, could Edwards be looking not so much for a place at the Naval Observatory [NOTE: home of the Vice-Presidential Mansion REB~A] but, later, a place at the top of the ticket? Given his fairly strong performance in this election cycle (stunning the more experienced Dick Gephardt in Iowa and running tight with Kerry for a spell) especially given his limited political experience and somewhat anemic name recognition in the early stages (by the time he was a known enough commodity he seems to have been swarmed beneath the mountains of Kerry funds), isn't he a front-runner (along with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton) for the nod in 2008 should the Democrats lose this time around?

And while nobody wants to see their Party lose, could he be figuring on a loss? As Al Gore proved, being VP for 8 years is certainly no guarantee of victory at the polls, even with a booming economy and general contentment with things. Why would Edwards so easily concede to waiting 8 years for another shot that is far from guaranteed?

Dominick Schirripa

New York, NY

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

Your points, Mr. Schirripa, about Senator Edwards' presence on the ticket potentially making weaknesses in John Kerry's campaign style seem even more glaring are well taken. I thought it rather odd, for example, that Senator Kerry's formal announcement of Edwards as his running mate in Pittsburgh the other day did not even include the North Carolina Senator. (Watching on TV with the sound down, one would have thought that Theresa Heinz Kerry was going to be running for V.P. on the Democratic ticket!) In the past, even once it became fashionable- beginning with Mondale/Ferraro in 1984- to not even wait until the National Convention itself to make such an announcement, it was common practice for the running mate to actually appear with the presidential candidate at the time the choice for Vice President was formally made public.

Then, yesterday, I watched- "live" on TV- one of the joint Kerry-Edwards campaign stops (in Cleveland) and one could so easily see just what Mr. Schirripa is talking about. Edwards was most enthusiastic, with his usual rapid-fire, yet still somehow deliberate, delivery deftly ticking off the issues on which the Kerry-Edwards team is obviously going to focus during their Party's Convention in Boston, as well as in the coming General Election campaign; by comparison, the more stentorian and emphatic Kerry seemed, in the main, rather bland. If, indeed, "image is everything" in modern American Politics (sad as that might be for those who so vainly seek real debate on the political issues of the day), this does not bode all that well for the Democrats.

Nevertheless, having acknowledged this, I will simply note- again- that people really don't vote for Vice President, for it is the presidential candidate that is so obviously the focus of the voters' interest, with the running mate something of an afterthought. Thus, it is the nominee for President, not that for Vice-President, who will either win or lose this Election. And 2004 is probably not going to produce a very close election, either (despite current polls, along with all the other signs and portents most political pundits are seeking, sifting through and discerning right now).

Though I will elaborate much more upon this in a Commentary for this website to be posted at a more appropriate time (perhaps once the Fall General Election campaign gets underway in September), I will here only note that so-called "second term Presidential Elections" (those in which a White House incumbent is seeking re-election, whether the eventual outcome be a win or a loss) have rarely been close ("close" being here defined as less than a 5 percent margin in the Electoral College, which ultimately elects the President, regardless of the Popular Vote); therefore, the eventual winner- whether it be Bush or Kerry- will most likely end up with a comfortable- where it might not also be significant- margin of victory.

Thus, Kerry compared to Edwards (or, for that matter, Cheney compared to Edwards) is, in the long term, not going to be anywhere near as important to the average voter as Kerry compared to Bush. And it's not as if President George W. Bush is the kind of charismatic leader one saw in, say, a John F. Kennedy or a Ronald Reagan!

As for Senator Edwards' possible future ambitions: first of all, he had better be hoping for a Kerry victory this November if he truly wants to be President of the United States some day! Political reality is not all that kind to Vice-Presidential nominees on the losing ticket (see "Muskie, Edmund: 1972", "Shriver, R. Sargent: 1976", "Dole, Robert: 1980", "Lieberman, Joseph: 2004"-- yes, it's true that Bob Dole eventually did become his Party's presidential nominee come 1996 but that had much more to do with his service in the Senate- especially as his Party's Leader in that body- after 1980). Although, as you yourself point out, actually serving as Vice President is little help to one's presidential ambitions: it might win you your Party's nomination (besides "Gore, Al: 2000", see "Mondale, Walter: 1984" or "Humphrey, Hubert: 1968"), it might even bring you eventual victory (compare "Nixon, Richard: 1968" to "Nixon, Richard: 1960"), but immediate success seems rather hard to come by (the father of the current President Bush remains, at least so far, the only sitting Vice President- since Martin Van Buren way back in 1836- to have been elected to the Presidency).

Edwards, I would think, loses much of the steam accruing to a presidential front-runner come 2008 should the Kerry-Edwards ticket actually lose this time round. After all, he had given up running for re-election to his Senate seat this year to pursue his presidential ambitions which now must be held in abeyance as he seeks to aid Senator Kerry's presidential ambitions; therefore, his own presidential ambitions are, indeed, far more tied up in the ultimate success or failure of the national ticket of which he is now a part (in other words: if one is going to so willingly step into the boat, one had better hope it's at least somewhat seaworthy!)

As for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton- her potential ambitions for Higher Office are a topic best left for another time. I will here only note that her current status as a 2008 presidential front runner is much more "smoke and mirrors" (where not also more than a little wishful thinking by at least some [including more than a few Clinton-bashing Republicans!]) than anything else.


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