What To Do With Edwards
As someone who championed adding John Edwards to the ticket from early on, so that he could sell the “Two Americas” domestic message better than Kerry, I tend to agree somewhat with the overall premise behind this New York Times piece this morning, which asks basically “Where’s Edwards?” The campaign has been using Edwards in primarily rural areas, usually off the national radar, but racking up good positive local press everywhere he goes.
The national “why didn’t I get hired” Democratic types like Tony Coehlo, who ran Gore nearly into the ground in 2000, complain now that Edwards is almost invisible, especially when contrasted with the attack-dog posture that Cheney performs for Bush. (In fact, someone needs to put a muzzle on Coehlo, and now.) Paging Hillary Clinton.
But Edwards was never brought aboard to be the attack dog, he was brought aboard to be the sunnier, more connectable half of the ticket focusing on parts of the country where he could help. We can debate the issue of whether or not this was a wise strategy in a world where your current Vice President is gleefully attacking and lying with impunity and there is no daily counterbalance to that except Kerry himself. I thought at the time that it was the right strategy, aimed at filling in for Kerry’s weaknesses. Others may argue with some success now that in light of the attack campaign that Cheney and Bush had planned to wage all along, that perhaps the best person to be our attack dog as a Number Two may have been a Wes Clark or a Dick Gephardt.
Given that the number of states that Kerry is contesting is shrinking, and that his base is showing signs of wandering, I think a good case can be made that Gephardt would be more useful right now that Edwards. But this is water under the bridge. The truth is that Kerry is withdrawing from the states that Edwards was supposed to focus on: North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. This is troubling since Kerry is still within six points in both Virginia and North Carolina, and less than two points behind in Arkansas.
If in fact the Kerry campaign has backed away from these states, then Edwards needs to be immediately redirected to the “must haves” in the remaining weeks. These would include Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nevada, Missouri, Florida, and Pennsylvania while doing more and more attacking. The campaign also needs to focus some time in New Jersey and Michigan, and make an effort to steal Ohio out from under Bush, but these targets are probably best left to Kerry.
Either way, the key is to take the state of the race as you find it today, and use your ticket and resources in the best way to capture your essential targets. And that means getting Edwards back into prime time in key “must-have” states hammering Bush while also hitting the “Two Americas” theme hard. Several weeks of that will turn around the numbers in the battleground states.
Lastly, Edwards needs to be put front and center because of killer moves like this one. Introducing the draft into the campaign is shrewd and puts the Bush team in a bad spot.