John Edwards' Dilemma


I liked John Edwards when he ran for President in 2004. Everything that he has done in the intervening two years has caused me to like him even more. Yet, even as I wish him God speed, I'm wondering if John Edward's Achilles heel is not his peculiar relationship with the good citizens of North Carolina.

When I moved here and first became acquainted with Senator Edwards, he was in the first stages of a Presidential bid. What I saw play out during the Summer and Fall of 2003 was instructive. It was obvious that the voters of North Carolina were becoming restive. Back in 1998, voting for a Democrat to be Senator in the midst of the Clinton follies forced a conservative electorate to the very edge of where they wanted to be.

The thought that Edwards would simply throw overboard their tentative approval for an ill advised Presidential fling was more than they could stand. Even a distracted John Edwards came to appreciate his growing estrangement from the voters of North Carolina.

In time he realized that it would not be possible to rely on the good graces of the Tar Heel State to hold open his Senate seat even as he courted voters elsewhere. He conceded the obvious and cleared the way for Erskine Bowles who later paid a price for the scorned romance with Edwards.

I'm sure that Edwards struggled over that decision, yet it proved to be his liberation. Not long thereafter he took the guards off his Presidential campaign and his stump speech about the "Two Americas" became the hottest thing on the Presidential campaign trail.

People started to take notice, the crowds swelled, and his improbable quest for the Presidency bloomed over night. Of course, eventually he lost his race for the nomination, but it wasn't because he ran out of potential, it was because he ran out of time. Many experts believed that if Edwards could have had just one more month before the primaries started, the race would have been his.

I think they were right.

Likewise, some political commentators back in North Carolina suggested that John Edwards unexpected success had won him back his popularity in the Old North State. They claimed that the voters early skepticism about his maturity and judgment now melted on the warmth of his national popularity. The voters of North Carolina were proud of him and he had a place in their hearts once more.

As pleasant as this scenario sounds, it contradicts the fact that the Kerry-Edwards ticket failed to carry North Carolina in the general election. In Edward's home State the victory of George W. Bush was decisive. The Republican ticket carried 56% of the vote. In his own Moore County, the place about which his stump speech waxed so eloquent, hearkening back to a time when his father had worked in a textile mill, and the very place where he had announced his run for the Presidency... there the Bush ticket won with 65% of the vote.

In short, it was a crushing defeat.

Even though this repudiation must have been painful, today Edwards continues to benefit by his freedom from North Carolina politics. Unfettered by what his former constituents expect, he’s now moved away from the platitudes of his 2004 stump speech. He has developed concrete proposals to move the conversation forward, even if those proposals invite criticism.

The old sense of moderation is now gone. In its place is a bold proposal for universal health care, the same third rail on which Hillary Clinton nearly shorted out her husband's political career. He embraces an aggressive posture on raising the minimum wage, humane bankruptcy protection and support for stronger unions.

He is doing what no President since Lyndon Johnson has had either the courage, or the recklessness to do. He is putting the issue of American poverty front and center.

Instead of the smiling civility of old he now speaks of Bush administration policies as a "convergence of stupidity." And finally, as if to expiate the sin of casting his Senate vote to authorize the war, Edwards now demands the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq - the most unambiguous stand of any serious Presidential candidate.

Anyone who has paid attention knows that his approach has helped him. According to a recent Harstad Poll, voters in Iowa rank their favorite Democratic Presidential candidates in this order...

* John Edwards 36%
* Hillary Clinton 16%
* Barack Obama 13%
* Tom Vilsack 11%

And this support isn't just confined to Iowa. Quinnipiac University recently conducted a national poll asking Americans to rate their warmth of feeling toward each of the Presidential candidates and only Obama ranked higher.

All of this is to the good.

Yet there is still one critical piece of the puzzle unaccounted for, and it's something crucial to John Edward's Presidential hopes. His ace in the hole is the expectation that he could carry his own Southern State, and maybe a few other Southern States besides.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to confirm that expectation. Two years ago John Edwards represented a ticket that was too liberal to be popular in his own home State. Since then Edwards has moved to the left with absolutely no evidence that North Carolina, or any Southern State, has moved along with him.

If in fact the South has not moved, then it's fair to assume that the gulf which separated the Democrats from Southern success in 2004 will only be wider if Edwards is the standard bearer in 2008.

Even should Edwards blow through Iowa, still, somewhere down the pike he'll be expected to show the goods in his own region. If polls taken among all Southern voters, and not just Democrats, demonstrate that he can't be competitive below the Mason-Dixon Line, then his case for the nomination becomes much less compelling.

The ultimate irony for John Edwards may be that everything he's done to make himself popular everywhere else, except in the South, might be the ultimate cause of his own undoing. As if scripted by William Faulkner himself, John Edwards might have tried to run from that old textile mill now standing dark and empty in North Carolina, but he just can't hide.

Comments

I'm sure Edwards would love to win NC

but I'm not sure he needs to. He just needs to hang on to Gore's 2000 states, or Kerry's 2004 states, and add one or two somewhere. Ohio would do it. Or some combination of New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado, all of which appear to be trending blue.

And Edward's choice of VP could deliver the state needed to push him over 270. Wesley Clark could deliver his home state of Arkansas. Clark would help across the South, for that matter. Bill Richardson could deliver New Mexico, and maybe even put Texas and other SW states into play with a high Hispanic turnout.

Having said that, I hope the Democrats will apply Howard Dean's 50-state strategy to the Presidential race as well. No more triangulation. No more airport hopping in 5 rust belt states while the rest of the nation is ignored. I don't think Edwards would run a campaign where they cherry-pick the blue and purple states they need to win.

That's what I like about Edwards. He is not afraid to campaign anywhere. He's not afraid of putting big ideas out there. He's not afraid of tackling huge problems like poverty and health care. He has vision and wisdom, 2 things our country desperately needs back in the White House.

50 State Strategy - or, you know....

voting machines that accurately record and count the votes. That might help, too.

Just sayin'.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi

But I think that your analysis of the South is wrong

There was that poll a few weeks (months?) ago that showed that the South is just as, if not more so, against the war as the rest of the country.

Also, what Edwards speaks to is the bread and butter issues. He is not a liberal, he is a populist. The same way that most of the big players in the South until 20 years ago were populist. And the thing with Edwards is that he really is, as opposed to the fake right-populism that the Greedy Ole' Party (Greedy Ole' Perverts?) have skated by on for the last 20 years.

Yes, you have your puppetmaster's down here, but the vast majority of people here listen to their children's stomach, not some puffed up, blow hard, Raleigh elites (or wherever the Locke foundation is, you get my point)

Let’s look at this state only. You had a victory in NC-11 where a populist ran against a conservative incumbent and handed his rear to him. In NC-08 you had an under funded ignored-until-too-late honest to god progressive almost win the seat who has already promised to run in two years. That means that only are those two districts up for grabs, but that there you have two voices that are going to be heard for the next two years, battering home a populist economic agenda strikingly similar to Edward's. For him it is free publicity for his platform, and for us it is keeping one seat and winning another.

You are seeing this all over the South. In my home district in FL you had a Dem that doubled the fundraising of the last Dem that ran, and also increase the Dem vote. He too has pledged to continue to run, so that is another voice that will be out there expressing the same issues. I should note that this district still sent an Edwards delegate, even though he had dropped out by the time of the election.

We hear great positive things about the West and the rise of the Populist Dems out there, well why not here? I am so tired of getting written off, and other Southerners are too. You want to no one big reason Kerry did not carry a southern state? He didn't campaign here! If you don't give us the pleasure of your company, we don't really know why we should care about you.

Anyway, this is getting way too long, and there is a lot that could be covered here. I promise that when I am done with my senior thesis (due in 9 hours!!) and get through exams and get some sleep, I will be posting on "The South" with a vengeance!

CM

PS Read my quote. I really think that it speaks to this whole topic.....

The Great appear great because we are on our knees – Let Us Rise!
-- “Big Jim” Larkin

The Great appear great because we are on our knees – Let Us Rise!
-- “Big Jim” Larkin

I think cm is correct here.

Edwards is an economic populist, and that is why the people who love him, love him. "The little guy is getting stomped on and that's wrong and it's time for it to stop" is, I think, his basic message.

You had a victory in NC-11 where a populist ran against a conservative incumbent and handed his rear to him. In NC-08 you had an under funded ignored-until-too-late honest to god progressive almost win the seat who has already promised to run in two years.

North Carolinians respond to the populist message when they get a chance to hear it. We have to help them hear it by repeating it here, in our own blogs/email list-serves and in local discussion boards.

I normally do NOT do this, God knows dKos needs no links for traffic, but there is an absolutely wonderful rescued diary (now on the rec list) at dKos called "The Simple Life. It's primary theme is closely related to the vein of progressive-populist politics many of us here seem to embrace. A teaser:

I think many in our culture have forgotten or do not realize that the purpose of an economy in a society is not to organize it so that a few can live like kings at the expense of the many but to organize economic activity so that the greatest amount of people can have the highest quality of life possible.

The diary is long, but it is soooooo worth the read.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

A lot of interesting points here

but one I don't buy is that Edwards "lost" North Carolina in 04. I don't know a single person who votes for VP in a presidential race.

John Edwards didn't lose in North Carolina. John Kerry did. Having god as the vice presidential candidate wouldn't have helped.

I absolutely agree !!

I voted for Kerry...just like I recently voted for McIntyre...while holding my nose. Not campaigning here was stupid on Kerry's part, but then again his elitist image and bearing wouldn't have done him much good anyway.

John Edwards will win this state in 08 because people, even some Republicans, are finally awakening to the knowledge they're being screwed by their government. By 2008 most will not only be awake but hopping mad. It's about time, damn it!

Stan Bozarth

Had Kerry put Edwards into NC...

instead of in PA and OH, then we would have won NC. However, we would have lost PA if he had done that. I'm in a meeting and won't be able to comment more.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

One Idea

It's a fair comment that Kerry matched with any other candidate would have lost North Carolina. I agree with that.

However, it's also relevant that Kerry didn't lose North Carolina with just any other candidate, he lost it with John Edwards. Much has been made of the fact that the Republican Presidential ticket won North Carolina in 2004 with a slightly smaller margin than in 2000, but that strikes me as cold comfort when the margin in 2004 was so decisive.

What we should ask ourselves is why Kerry lost in North Carolina? It's true, he was not the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt, but he wasn't exactly Alf Landon either. He won a lot of states - almost enough - against a Pre-Katrina President who was then 20 points higher in the polls than he is today.

Kerry's loss in North Carolina, and throughout the South, can't be laid off totally to the proposition that he was a national joke, or that the national electorate was allergic to him. We could have had a better candidate, but we've elected others as President who were not as good.

No, we have to accept that a large part of Kerry's unpopularity in North Carolina, and in the rest of the South, had to do with the fact that he wasn't nearly as conservative as Southern voters. And I contend that the John Edwards of today is a good deal more liberal than the John Kerry of 2004.

So in terms of Southern electability what does Edwards have on his side of the ledger? The fact that he's from North Carolina seems to be of dubious value, so that leaves us with the fact that he has substantially more charm.

The value of charm shouldn't be dismissed, but the last man with that much charm played a guitar and sang "Love Me Tender."

One possibility I have not explored is for John Edwards to propose an argument, right out of the gate, that's a bit unconventional, but right now he seems to have an appetite for the unconventional. For instance, he could say...

I'm a proud son of the South, but I'm not a Southern candidate. The programs I advocate, and the kind of leadership that I offer, are not designed to be especially persuasive in any one section of the country.

If your calculation in supporting me depends on that promise, then frankly I don't want your support. I'm not that candidate.

I ask for your support not because of criteria which have been so persuasive in the past. I don't ask for your support because I'm white or black, man or woman, Republican or Democrat. Nor do I ask for your support because I'm from the South.

What I ask, is do you agree with me? Do you believe that the things I talk about are the things that matter? Do you believe that the proposals I advocate are the proposals that will work? Do you believe that the vision I offer is a good vision for all Americans?

And finally, if your answer is "yes," do you believe that the time is now?"

Who knows, maybe something like that might work.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

Kerry didn't even try to win NC

Kerry didn't really campaign here and even pulled our ads, not to mention, our campaign offices were not adequately staffed or supplied. But all that aside, I do agree that he was too much the "liberal elitist" to appeal to Southerners.

Kerry stated prior to the start of the official campaign, that he did not need a Southern state to win and he stuck with that strategy.

And we see where that got him, don't we?

Dems ignore the south at their own peril. We'll just keep plugging along.

I've heard that before about the campaign offices from a friend in Kinston.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



***************************
Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Anglico beat me to it

Kerry was not a candidate the voters in NC could warm to and while God might have been able to win the ticket if riding shotgun(James, James, James....what are we going to do with you? :)), John Edwards couldn't. We vote for President, not Vice President.

Though, I do think voters would make an exception for God, except for one little thing.....according to Dubya, God's been in command the past six years and look where that's landed us. Hmmmm, Anglico, you might have a point afterall!



***************************
Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Agree, people vote for Pres, not VP

About the God thing...we could just ask Pat Robertson since God tells him who should be president. ;)

All the more reason to have the best person leading the ticket

I don't think it's Obama, Clinton or Vilsack.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



***************************
Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

ew

ok...so not an ew to Obama. But an ew to Clinton and Vilsack.

I would think you would be a bigger Clark fan.

HelpLarry.com

"Keep the Faith"

Clark has never been elected to anything

and he's just a little to mealy for my tastes. Pablum...yeah, that's it. He comes across as a nice guy, but certainly hasn't mastered that presidential thing.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



***************************
Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Clark

Had Kerry been elected, Clark would have been a great Secretary of Defense, which would have put him in a better position 8 years later. As it is, i don't think that "not elected" is all or nothing, but with the field he's facing, I think it is anuphill battle. Also, just as with many other things, you can be great o the periphery, but if you haven't been through the election wringer, it might tear you down.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I agree

I do think he is qualified for a few cabinet positions. He might (but I really don't think so, personally) even make a good VP.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



***************************
Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

I'm sad Bayh isn't running

then we could play fun games based on one's ability to discern between Bayh and Vilsack. I fathom that not many of us would be able to tell the two apart based on quotes and bullet points.

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks

duh

Bayh is from Indiana and is a Senator and Vilsack is governor of Iowa. I want a cookie.

...oh. You meant POLICY differences? shit. i got nothing.

HelpLarry.com

"Keep the Faith"

Myth.

The idea that Senator Edwards would not have been elected again is a myth. You have to take into account:

  1. He was leading in the polls when he stepped down (still looking for this link, I've seen the data).
  2. He then spent NO time in North Carolina, which he would NOT have done if he hadn't stepped down.
  3. A Fox News exit poll, hardly a liberal bastion of information, suggested: In the senate race, the Republicans gained the seat formerly held by John Edwards (search). If Edwards had run for reelection against Republican Richard Burr (search), it appears Edwards would have held on to his seat by a 53 percent — 47 percent margin. Seven percent of those voters that would have voted for Edwards voted for Burr. This is remarkably close to the 51-47 margin he carried in 1998.
  4. He won in 1998, which was a conservative election year during the heat of impeachment, against a Helms man. In 2004, it was a much more evenly divided country.

So, I disagree with the whole premise that North Carolinians are disenchanted with their former Senator and current Presidential candidate.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

I Beg To Differ

According to a report by Robert Sargent, who is a conservative commentator, but whom I have no reason not to believe, cites a report in late July of of 2003 in The Southern Political Report, in which editor Hastings Wyman wrote:

US Senator John Edwards is running behind in the home-state polls in his presidential bid. Moreover, he's not in great shape if he chooses to drop back and seek re-election to the senate. A Research 2000 North Carolina Poll taken July 13-16 shows…in a Senate contest between Edwards and US Rep. Richard Burr (R), Edwards leads by 47 per cent to 39 per cent, a poor showing for an incumbent this early in the election cycle. Moreover, Edwards' Senate margin is decreasing – in mid-May, he led Burr 47 per cent to 36 per cent.

It seems pretty conclusive to me that Edwards had a choice, either give up his Presidential bid and start campaigning in North Carolina for his Senate seat, or run for President and give his seat up. He decided to choose what was behind door #2.

I'm 56 years old. I moved to North Carolina five years ago. The previous twenty-five years I spent as a resident of Chicago's north shore and before that Wisconsin, Utah and California. I live in Moore County. My Congressman is Howard Coble, my State Sen

I differ with your differing.

First, I agree it would have been hard to pull off both, but not impossible. The Fox poll clearly shows that Edwards would have won with the same margin he won in 1998. You may remember that the same people who said Edwards couldn't win in 2004 were the same ones that said he'd never beat the Helms machine in 1998.

Moreover:

Mason-Dixon poll, conducted 10/11-14/02 for the Winston-Salem Journal,
surveyed 625 likely North Carolina voters; margin of error +- 4%.

Edwards: 45%
Burr: 30%
Undecided: 25%

A Research 2000 poll; conducted 7/13-16/03 for the Raleigh News and
Observer; surveyed 600 likely voters; margin of error +- 4%.

Edwards: 47%
Burr: 39%
Undecided: 14%

A Research 2000 poll, conducted 5/18-21/03 for the Raleigh News and
Observer, surveyed 600 likely voters; margin of error +- 4%.

Edwards: 47%
Burr: 36%
Undecided: 17%

So, while Edwards never dropped and Burr gained 3% in those polls, according to MD Edwards held a commanding lead in November. Kos posted an analysis of different polling organizations after 2006 and MD once again faired better than anyone else. So, Edwards had a large lead throughout 2003, and on election day the polls said he would have won.

End of debate. We'll never know what would have happened, but clearly the signs were that he would win in NC if he stayed in the race. However, I think it is the better part of valor to step aside given the CHANCE that North Carolina might lose the seat. If you want to continue with conjecture, fine, but the facts are that he lead early and often including at the exit polls.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Those polls are crap

Erskine was 10-20 points ahead until the Breast Cancer ad. The exit poll is the only thing with any merit.

Of course, one consideration is that as a VP candidate Edwards got more attention, even in NC, than he would have if he were running for senator. Not that I care enough to have an opinion on if Edwards would have won or not.

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks

Even if they are crap, they are what we have.

Bowles chose not to run ads for, what, six months? While the gap closed. Not the same.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

We'll find out in a year

How close 2008 is really going to be.

I got nothing to contrib here, except that aftering working for years on Edwards' team, I believe that they have learned from lessons past. Much of what is being said here I honestly believe has been accounted for and they will not make the same mistake twice once the General election begins.

but by no means expect big events here in the primaries.

I like this thread, and I think by the discussion here, he still does have a good chance at winning over more hearts and minds than pundits will have you believe.

Our children need to know that some people fought back, when others collaborated.

Our children need to know that some people fought back, when others collaborated.

DIfferent disagreement

I agree with this whole post up until you get to why Edwards didn't or can't win NC. Folks need to stop thinking about politics in such a binary manner, there are more than two political opinions and one thin line between them to position yourself on.

It's true that Edwards has embraced a more progressive tone, which I think is effective both as a messaging strategy (see George Lakoff) and a primary-winning strategy (see Democrats). But more importantly, he is the most populist candidate in race so far. People vote more on identity than on politics (just ask George Bush) and Edwards has a winning personality going for him and he talks about issues that many voters are concerned about.

good point

and good picture

HelpLarry.com

"Keep the Faith"

You are absolutely right.

when is the last time someone focused on the poor and poverty instead of the middle class.

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Totally on point, Ruby

And that populist identity is why Edwards' campaign will be a grassroots campaign. God knows he ain't gettin' no love from the teevee reporter types. He could be twenty points ahead of the other Dems in Iowa and they wouldn't give him any love. Oh, wait ...

Well, but it's early. Honestly, 20 points in a poll now means nothing.

Unless you're Hillary, Gore or Obama ... in which case being 20 points ahead would mean something. Heck even 16 & 18 percent poll numbers mean something when you're Hillary and Obama, respectively.

But 36 percent poll numbers mean nothing if you're Edwards. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Move along. Nothing to see.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Edwards support in NC


That John Edwards speaking, getting the loudest applause at a Raleigh rally.
And this is me near the front:

Awesome pic, gflynn

I'm dreaming of an Edwards rally in Clayton. :)
... and in Benson
... and in Selma

ooo, :) i just got goosebumps thinking about it.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Where's Waldo?

:)

Cool picture. Hadn't seen this one.