Friday, July 18, 2008

VP Profile: John Edwards

Age: 55
Current Position: Professional Scamp; Professor of Dual American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Senator from North Carolina, 1998-2004
  • Gifted trial lawyer, 1978-1997
  • Son of a mill worker, 1953-1978
Pros: The Obama campaign has identified North Carolina as a vulnerable red state; polls there seem to indicate a competitive environment. Plucking the state and its 15 electoral votes from the GOP camp would be huge, both in terms of morale and electoral math. Winning North Carolina would largely make up for a loss in Michigan, for example. Edwards would not only help in his home state, he might be useful in Virginia, another Southern state Obama feels is in play.

Paul Krugman would be happy.

An Edwards nomination would be Obama's attempt to reach dissatisfied blue collar workers, men and women who feel squeezed by the current economy but are not touched by "Yes, we can" chants. Edwards is a legitimately gifted campaigner, a 21st century Bill Clinton. He has a wonderful ability to look a pained single mother in the eye and make her feel like he's listening, that he truly cares about her plight.

Dispatch Edwards to North Carolina, Virginia, rural areas of Pennsylvania, Missouri and Ohio, send him to speak to unemployed auto workers in Michigan, and he can be an extraordinary force. In that regard he complements Obama well; placing Edwards on the ticket would go a long way toward alleviating charges that the presidential candidate is elitist.

Cons: Been there, done that. See those last couple of paragraphs? If I wrote this post four years ago I probably would have used those exact same words to justify Edwards as John Kerry's vice president. It turns out the existence of John Edwards didn't do a whole lot to convince folks that John Kerry was anything other than an overly primped elitist.

No one cares what Paul Krugman thinks.

Nominating Edwards does nothing to alleviate concerns about Obama's inexperience and, in fact, might aggravate them. Edwards brings no substantial foreign or domestic policy to the ticket. He's already been tarred as "the Breck Girl of American politics" by the Republicans, and if there's one thing the Barack Obama campaign doesn't need, it's another inexperienced, good-looking guy who can speak well.

Nor does Edwards help Obama with those elusive "Clinton women" the campaign is trying to win over.

Verdict: People forget it now, but back in 2004, Edwards was the Barack Obama prototype. Great speaker, great biography, talked at length about changing the tone and culture of Washington.

Like most prototypes, Edwards has become over-shadowed by the perfected version of the original product. He has Obama's strengths and Obama's weaknesses, but Obama elevates the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses with a skill Edwards lacks. As such, it's hard to see what the campaign would really gain by a John Edwards VP nomination.

If you're scoring at home, he's a more likely nominee than Clinton, but less likely than Richardson.

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