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Super Tuesday: Ten Talking Points

About the Author

David Corn
David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. Until 2007, he was Washington editor of The Nation. He has written...

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03/03/2004

After 9/11, grown-ups are wanted. John Edwards ran a swell campaign. He had the best speech of all the candidates. ("There are two Americas....") He had the best temperament. And he has plenty of brains beneath his golden locks. But he couldn't seal the deal. He didn't even come close. It was not because of his ideas; he had few policy differences with Kerry. It was not because he didn't have the funds to make himself and his positions known to primary voters. It was probably because in this post-9/11 period he did not come across as ready-to-lead. He has not finished his first term in the Senate; he had no previous experience in government or foreign policy. He talked--at length!--about sharing the values of the working class (having been the son of a mill worker before becoming a millionaire trial attorney) and understanding their lives (presumably in a way that the blue-blooded Kerry could not). But empathy only goes so far. It's not the same as inspiring confidence and reassurance. And it could well be that Democratic voters in 2004 wanted a candidate who reeks of maturity and experience. Edwards was confronted by a stature gap--and the gap won. After 9/11, protector-in-chief is at the top of the list of the president's job responsibilities. Edwards was not able to persuade voters he yet has the chops for that.

Issues? We don't need no stinking issues? This was not a contest decided by issues. Most Democratic primary voters were opposed to the Iraq war, skeptical of Nafta and similar trade accords, and uneasy about the Patriot Act. Yet the two candidates who fared best in the primary contest--Kerry and Edwards--both voted for legislation granting Bush the authority to go to war and for the Patriot Act. Kerry voted for Nafta; Edwards was not yet in the Senate for that vote, but he did vote for extending most favored nation trading status to China. No issue--not even the war--defined the campaign for most voters.... Edwards tried to make trade an issue separating himself from Kerry. But he was hanging on to a thin reed: that his criticism of the recent trade pacts was edgier than Kerry's. But that effort failed. Union voters--who perhaps are the most concerned about trade--still went overwhelmingly for Kerry.

But what about Edwards' cross-over appeal? Yes, Edwards did well among Republicans and independents in those states where the Rs and Is can vote in the Democratic primary. But in 2000 Senator John McCain was a big hit with the Indies and had more appeal to Dems than Bush. And he only got so far. In party primaries, the first-place ribbon goes to the guy who excites (or wins the votes of) the party faithful. Parties do not nominate folks because they are liked by the other side. That's the way it is. Each party is burdened by this dynamic. And most Republicans who voted for Edwards would probably end up voting for Bush.

Edwards for veep? He has a net worth of millions, but Edwards is not a retire-early-and-take-up-fly-fishing guy. He's already given up his Senate seat. What's he to do now, except angle to be Kerry's sidekick? He could be a fine choice.... It's true that a running mate rarely has much impact on a presidential race. (See Dan Quayle.)

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