This is the sixth in our series of profiles of Barack Obama's most likely vice presidential candidates. We will be profiling Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell later this evening. Our previous profiles can be viewed here.
No introduction necessary. John Edwards has had an overwhelming impact on this primary season, dragging the two top contenders left-ward on everything from health care to labor to poverty awareness. Without his presence, Obama and Clinton would currently be offering very different platforms. Given the magnitude of his influence on the primaries, and his continued popularity among party activists, many believe John Edwards would make an excellent addition to an Obama ticket.
As the former Senator has been out of office for nearly four years, and his stay in this primary season was short lived, the current beliefs of the demographic appeal of John Edwards are based more on perception than on hard numbers (though recently some compelling numbers have been released; we will address those shortly). That said, the general consensus is that John Edwards still holds enormous appeal to working class voters. He comes from the Carolinas (born in SC; elected in NC), which would leave one to imagine he would have a strong pull among Appalachian voters who have largely steered clear of Barack Obama. Iowa entrace polls also demonstrate a clear appeal to conservative Democratic voters; a demographic he won by more than 20 points (42% for Edwards vs. 22% for Clinton and 21% for Obama). These strengths position Edwards as a fine demographic partner for Barack Obama, and unlike say Jim Webb or Wesley Clark (men primarily valued for their military experience and expertise), an Edwards candidacy doesn't cause Obama to look like as if he's concerned about his credibility on foreign policy and feels need to fix it by placing a military man on his ticket. It is especially important for Obama not to undermine himself on foreign policy given that his current crop of advisers points to the fact that Obama is aiming for a tectonic shift from the foreign policy that has governed the last eight years. A vice presidential candidacy that suggested Obama felt less than confident on his bona fides may ironically work against him in this regard.
Edwards' primary appeal is borne more from his credibility on the issues, and the similarities between Obama's message and his own. Edwards has been pitching a reform platform since 2004, when he campaigned on his vision of two Americas. With Edwards in the VP slot, the Democrats would have a far more synergistic campaign than that of Kerry/Edwards, which put two candidates of very different styles and backgrounds on the same ticket, resulting in the two men battling against one another. The New York Times featured a detailed report last year on the behind the scenes hostilities between the Kerry and Edwards camps. Back in 2004, the two camps couldn't even agree on a single slogan:
John Edwards, accepting his party’s nomination for vice president, roused a cheering crowd at the 2004 Democratic convention with the kind of buoyant refrain that had become his trademark: "Hope is on the way."
The next night, wanting to give the American people something more tangible, John Kerry offered his own pledge, one intended as the ticket’s new slogan: "Help is on the way."
But Mr. Edwards did not want to say it.
So the running mates set off across the country together with different messages, sometimes delivered at the same rally: Mr. Kerry leading the crowd in chants for "help," Mr. Edwards for "hope." The campaign printed two sets of signs. By November, the disagreement had been so institutionalized that campaign workers handed out fans with both messages, on flip sides.
Hope? Sounds an awful lot like a current presidential campaign I can think of. But even more than the similarity of message is Edwards' credibility on such domestic issues as health care and labor. Obama's health care plan has faced severe scrutiny from members of the progressive media, who fault the Senator for failing to mandate health coverage. An Edwards vice presidency would do much to alleviate these concerns. Edwards was first out of the gate with his health care proposal (which did include mandates), and has continued the drum beat in support of universal health care. In fact, it's been reported that his original decision not to endorse Obama following his withdrawal from the race centered largely on his concerns over Obama's health care policy. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, is also well-informed and passionate about health care. She would serve as an excellent surrogate for the campaign. Between the two, the Democrats would have a hell of a team lobbying for major health care reform.
Perhaps best of all, an Obama/Edwards ticket would feature the party's two best orators. The nationwide barn-storming would be unimaginable. Further, at only 54 years old, Edwards is still young enough that he could very well win in 2016 (he'll be 63 by the November election). The benefits of another Edwards vice presidency can be found in recent SUSA polls of hypothetical general election match-ups in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia. In each instance, the Obama/Edwards ticket slaughters not only McCain (usually by double digits), but trounces Obama tickets supproted by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (KS), or Gov. Ed Rendell (PA).
While name recognition may explain the disparity between an Obama/Edwards ticket and an Obama/Sebelius ticket, the same cannot be said of an Obama/Rendell ticket, which polls even or slightly behind an Obama/Edwards ticket in Pennsylvania (where one would assume the citizens recognize the name of their own governor). The fact that Edwards can draw as much support in Pennsylvania as its own governor is a pretty good sign for his pull at the bottom of a ticket. These poll numbers are probably overly-optimistic, but they certainly do suggest John Edwards' wide-spread popularity.
The main weakness of an Edwards candidacy is the fact that he has now tried twice and failed to gain the nomination of the Democratic Party, and therefore may be viewed by some as a weak candidate (not to mention he may, in fact, be a weak candidate). His efforts in 2004, were also widely panned as he was seen as the loser in his debates with Dick Cheney; however, no one can convince me that a former trial lawyer (and a successful one at that) doesn't know how to engender the sympathy of an audience, or how to villainize the opposition. That Edwards has been through this process before may be an enormous advantage, as he has had the opportunity to go over his mistakes and learn from them. His 2008 candidacy pointed toward a more bull-dog approach, which would be perfect for the VP slot. Finally, his previous candidacy makes him far better vetted than the other candidates on Obama's short list (with the exception of Sen. Clinton), as he's been raked over the coals by the national media, whereas Stickland, Sebelius, or Webb have not. Certainly not to the same degree at any rate.
John Edwards makes a very compelling case for vice president. But would he really go through that a second time? It's far more likely he'll end up as the Attorney General in an Obama administration, but the recent poll numbers are certainly giving Barack Obama a reason to consider him as his number two.