Kerry's No. 2

July 13, 2004|By Amy Kauffman

WASHINGTON - John Kerry's selection of John Edwards as his running mate is in many ways reminiscent of George H. W. Bush's choice of Dan Quayle in 1988. Having been a vice president, Mr. Bush wanted a No. 2 who would be a No. 2. He wanted his second in command to be second, not second-guessing.

And for better or worse, Mr. Bush got what he wished for.

His son, George W. Bush, took the opposite track. He chose someone who embodied the qualities he lacked: foreign policy and national security experience and a deep insider's knowledge of Washington. But early on, some perceived the president to be overshadowed by Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Kerry's choice showed that he felt confident of his ability to lead with his own policy, politics and vision. He will lead in foreign policy and wants his vice president to be deferential. What Mr. Kerry - often criticized as distant and aristocratic - needs is someone who can humanize him and help him through the public relations side of campaigning.

Mr. Edwards will, in many ways, be his ambassador to the America of the common man. The contrast the morning of the vice presidential selection could hardly be starker: the Kerrys - he in a silk tie and tailored suit, she in a matching silk scarf - and the Edwardses, their small children in tow, dressed in shorts and hauling backpacks, looking more as if they were going off to camp than to campaign for the White House. Minus the backdrop of the Edwardses' multimillion-dollar Georgetown home, this was an image with which almost every young family could identify.

In the spring, many Republicans feared Mr. Edwards would win the Democratic nomination. Going one on one against President Bush, Mr. Edwards would be quick and articulate to Mr. Bush's blunt and folksy. But this battle of a self-made man vs. the scion of the establishment never took place, as the more aloof Mr. Kerry won the nomination.

Democrats unjustly have tried to tar the Bush-Cheney team as the embodiment of capitalism run amok. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has made spurious accusations that the president used his office to help former business associates, with Mr. Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, playing a starring role. Mr. Edwards arrives on this scene like Luke Skywalker to battle the Bush-Cheney Darth Vader: a defender of the little guy against big interests.

The GOP will try to tarnish the North Carolina senator's "white knight" status by noting that he is just another trial lawyer who made millions off the suffering of others.

But many will see him as a hero who helped regular Americans fight those who wronged them. To be fair, Mr. Edwards' clients largely are not fodder for efforts to rein in the tort bar but sympathetic clients with heart-wrenching tales.

Elections are usually determined by the middle ground - the 10 percent to 20 percent of voters labeled moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats or independents who decide the outcome. Instead of choosing a moderate Democrat such as Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana or John B. Breaux of Louisiana, whose politics appeal to those in the middle, Mr. Kerry instead chose someone whose personality could cross boundaries.

Mr. Edwards also cannot be viewed as the Southern concession.

Other than possibly his home state of North Carolina (a big if), Mr. Edwards will not help Mr. Kerry win any Southern state or shore up any one geographic area. He will help by energizing the Kerry campaign, which until now has not been about Mr. Kerry but about uniting Democrats against Mr. Bush.

Mr. Edwards, through his lively demeanor, will bring oomph into the ticket. He will get people excited about Mr. Kerry; he will be the cheerleader to Mr. Kerry's quarterback.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Edwards' appeal will be in small towns in those culturally conservative states Democrats lost in 2000, where they need to regain the working class and recapture Reagan Democrats. Many of these voters are union members whose national leaders wrongly thought that Howard Dean was the answer before stumbling to support John Kerry. These voters can better relate to Mr. Edwards, whose father was, like them, a factory worker. And in many ways, Mr. Edwards is their son, too: the vision each one has for his own children of college, success and the American dream.

Even though the choice may have been expected, it is not boring. Most Democrats gave it a rousing cheer. The Republicans are already trying to brand the ticket with the always useful "liberal" sticker. Others note that Mr. Edwards' five years in the Senate and lack of foreign policy experience make him far from ideal.

But to win re-election, the president must stop trying to use scare tactics and instead focus on his record. Re-elections are a referendum on the job done, and that is why they are usually won, or lost, by comfortable margins.

Amy Kauffman is resident fellow and director of the Campaign and Election Laws Project at the Hudson Institute.

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