Weighing pros, cons

Edwards' impact

July 09, 2004|By Douglas MacKinnon

AS A REPUBLICAN and strong Bush supporter, I am intrigued with John Kerry's selection of John Edwards as his running mate. If nothing else, I believed during the Democratic primaries that the North Carolina senator certainly could count.

Sometime last year, Mr. Edwards came to the unpleasant but honest conclusion that he would not be re-elected to the Senate in his home state. He would become a one-term wonder assigned to the slag heap of political history.

With such a disheartening scenario before him, what was a young, telegenic senator to do? Why, run for president, of course. With that one decision, he changed the dynamic of not only his life and career, but quite possibly the future direction of our nation.

The positives of the selection from Mr. Kerry's perspective are obvious and already being validated. In today's 24-hour news cycle, Mr. Edwards, his family and his life story are everywhere. I have already seen three "unbiased" reporters compare Mr. Edwards to John F. Kennedy. All three also slipped in basically the same line about Mr. Edwards "evoking memories of Camelot."

As someone who has worked on the communications side of presidential campaigns, I can assure you that the Kerry campaign has war-gamed everything with regard to an Edwards selection. They not only knew the Kennedy comparisons were coming, but were counting on them.

Predictably, we are going to hear some Republican strategists attack Mr. Edwards, mock his selection and explain how it plays right into the hands of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Those who only parrot the talking points of the Republican National Committee or the Bush campaign will be wrong and doing their audience a disservice.

The selection of Mr. Edwards presents some real problems for the Bush campaign. The first is North Carolina. Suddenly, a state that most likely was not going to re-elect Mr. Edwards to the Senate may soon gush with pride at his elevated status and vote for him. North Carolina was considered fairly safe for the Bush campaign. Not anymore.

Also, the South generally is now more of a question mark for both campaigns.

The visual impact of the young, energetic and telegenic Edwards family has also been taken into account by the Kerry campaign and must not be dismissed by the GOP. Critical issues and impending policy decisions aside, aesthetics do play a role in presidential campaigns. To many Americans, the Edwards family may project vigor, optimism and the hope for a better future. Also, John and Elizabeth Edwards have been scarred for life with the loss of a young son to a traffic accident, and such a tragedy may touch many voters and speak to the character of Mr. Edwards.

The negatives of the Edwards selection are also very real and will become self-evident in the coming weeks.

First, the Bush campaign and the RNC were well prepared for this selection and have volumes of "opposition research" ready to unload on the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Mr. Edwards, like Mr. Kerry, has a record that can and will be dissected and exploited.

Next, the euphoria of the Edwards selection will wear off quickly, and then it will be back to ugly politics as usual. Mr. Kerry may have erred in naming Mr. Edwards now instead of waiting until the convention later this month. The thinking is that it would have been better to reap the rewards of free media by keeping the press speculating until the last moment. Picking now also offers the GOP three more valuable weeks to define and then attack Mr. Edwards.

Another very important negative is that before becoming a senator, Mr. Edwards was a trial lawyer. A valid argument will be made that trial lawyers not only enrich themselves off the backs of victims, but also have put numerous corporations out of business and have been responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of American jobs.

With such pros and cons thrown into the festering cauldron of presidential politics, I see Mr. Edwards as a small-to-medium net plus for the Kerry campaign. As Election Day approaches, the Bush campaign would be well advised to respect this selection and respond accordingly.

Douglas MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole and a former White House and Pentagon official.

Columnist Thomas L. Friedman is away writing a book.

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