Instant Analysis: Kerry-Edwards Ticket
Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor
Tuesday, July 6, 2004; 11:00 AM
Sen. John F. Kerry has selected Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as his vice presidential running mate.
Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser discussed Sen. Edwards, what Kerry's choice means for the campaign and the 2004 election.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
A lot of critics are saying that Edwards lacks foreign policy experience, what about Bush and he still somehow became President. What about Dan Quayle? Edwards is a lot smarter than Quayle, it appeared yet it did not seem to hurt Bush-Quayle ticket. What is your take? Thanks.
Robert G. Kaiser : Good morning, and thanks for joining us. Let me begin by stating a strong prejudice of mine that will color my answers about the choice of Edwards. Vice presidential candidates generally don't make much difference, especially for challengers. There have been exceptions: Nixon hurt Ike in '52 somewhat, after the scandal about his personal slush fund broke. But Ike won anyway, easily. Johnson helped JFK in the South, conceivably enough to win the election, though that is unproven. I think Gore helped Clinton a little in '92, because the two of them, young, rugged, handsome guys on the bus, you may recall, cast an appealing image and a strong contrast to the first president Bush.
We will explore further how Edwards may help the ticket this time, and I'd welcome your views, but I don't expect it to be the difference between Kerry winning or losing.
Edwards showed that his populist message played well with middle america during the primary campaign. How much will that message play a role in the combined Kerry-Edwards campaign? Also, I have to think that the Dems like the juxtaposition of Edwards vs. Cheney. Any ideas how many debates we'll see between the two? I think that Edwards would have to be the favorite in a head-to-head.
Robert G. Kaiser : Melding Edwards' populism with Kerry's increeasingly Clintonian middle-of-the-road moderation will be interesting to watch. I think it can be done; I don't know how effective it might be.
I fear we are in a rut now; one, maybe two veep debates is all we'll get. Indeed, if memory serves (uncertain), it's already understood there will just be one. I'
ll try to check that now.
I've heard that the choice of Vice President has little if any effect on voters. However, with this race as close as it is, do you think that John Edwards will be a benefit to Kerry, especially considering the sharp contrast between the personalities of Edwards and Cheney?
Robert G. Kaiser : Well, maybe. If we have another cliffhanger, anything at all could provide the margin of difference. I've come to the view that we are unlikely to have another cliffhanger; that either Bush will lose badly, or win easily. I am going to try to write something about this for The Post in the days ahead. But my guess is no better than yours about the Edwards effect.
Is it common for a presidential nominee to pick a VP that he attacked so vigorously in the primary? Kerry routinely criticized Edwards for his lack of experience in politics, foreign policy, etc. Is this something that will come back to haunt them?
Robert G. Kaiser : Reagan did it with George H.W. Bush, with no bad consequences. JFK did it with LBJ. I'm sure there are other examples I'm not instantly recalling. I'd say it's no big deal.
New Haven, Conn.:
Kerry consistently said he was looking for a running mate that could take over as president if need be. He has also been stressing his military backround as a proxy for foreign policy experience. It seemed that he would pick a more experienced candidate but Edwards seems experinced at almost nothing politically. Is this choice more a lack of what Kerry actually wanted or is it more a PR ploy as Edwards seems the media's pretty-boy choice?
Robert G. Kaiser : Can't read Kerry's mind, but it will be interesting to see how he answers this question, which will undoubtedly be put to him today, and in the days ahead.
My hunch is this: Edwards is an unusual politician. He has an emotional impact on people. He has the gift of empathy that Clinton had too, and used so well. Whether this is all phony I leave to you to decide, but our reporting has shown how real it feels to some voters. People really respond to the guy--some people.
My hunch is Kerry is hoping that there's a little Edwards Magic out there that will help mitigate his own aloof personality. Is that a workable formula? I'm cold, but my running mate is really warm? I don't know.
Would you say the Edwards/Gephardt decision reflected anything larger within the party? It seems to me Gephardt was the "old school", while Edwards was "new school". And Edwards certainly was a lot more exciting to the online (i.e., younger) community.
Robert G. Kaiser : I think you're right. Gephardt would have gotten very mixed reviews, from journalists and Democratic activists. He is Old News, whatever else you may think of him. Edwards looks a little riskier, a little more edgy. So what? Not much, probably.
I tend to agree that the VP selection by and large does not greatly impact a presidential election, but why always the media hype?
Robert G. Kaiser : Hey, it's the only story we've got, for today. So far.
The image of Edwards standing next to Cheney on TV surely inspires some to think of Kennedy/Nixon. This is most likely the source of the enthusiasm amongst Democrats for the eventual debate. But in a post-9/11 world, doesn't it also expose Edwards biggest potential problem: Cheney, although brusque, is usually regarded as immenently prepared to step into the presidency, if required (to the extreme, some have even suggested he runs the show behind the scenes today).
Robert G. Kaiser : I'm curious about how Edwards will handle this. Can he turn directly to Cheney in the debate and say, you advertise your experience, but look what it got us--the worst-run war in modern American history, misleading "intelligence," the emnity of all our allies, etc. etc? Would that be an effective line to take? Again, your guess is as good as mine.
Will the instant GOP reaction that McCain was Kerry's first choice have any impact? Won't McCain be annoyed by being used in this way against his friend??
Robert G. Kaiser : I suspect Kerry scored some points with his McCain flirtation which no comments today can dent. He showed himself to be open to Republicans and to bipartisan government, a theme I think we'll hear more about in the months ahead. McCain as a salesman for Bush will have a rough time gaining credibility, I think. It's no secret how the two feel about each other.
Robert G. Kaiser : Maralee Schwartz, The Post's splendid political editor, has just confirmed for me that there will be just one vice presidential debate this year.
Cocoa Beach, Fla.:
You've been watching him from a better vantage than most of us. Is Edwards as stunningly bright, as quick a study as he seems to be?
Robert G. Kaiser : Hmm, not sure I'd have used those words to describe him. He is a very quick study. He is a warm person. He has excellent political skills. He has a good trial lawyer's verbal acuity and memory for facts.
But he is not an intellectual. I don't think he reads many books--friends of his have told me that. I don't think his knowledge of policy issues and the world is in the same league as Kerry's, a potentially interesting distinction.
I can't imagine that, privately, the Clinton's are too excited about the increased prominence of one of Hillary's likely challengers for the party nod in either '08 or '12?
Robert G. Kaiser : Many rumors in recent weeks that the Clinton camp (whatever that is) wanted Kerry to pick someone who would not be a rival to Hillary Clinton in the future. I have no idea if that is the case, or what difference it makes.
I agree that voters do not specifically vote "for" or "against" a vice-presidential candidate, but the Veep candidate is the next-most imporatant campaigner and message-bearer. To have a stellar campaigner like Edwards on the ticket who gets a good reception to "red" states looks like a big boost for the Democrats and presumably causes the Republicans to reallocate some of their resources to states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana.
Robert G. Kaiser : Thanks for the good comment.
Port Washington, N.Y.:
While I like the charisma that John Edwards adds to the ticket as a great campaigner, how can John Kerry justify, in a debate, Edwards clear lack of major foreign policy experience in picking him as a candidate who can be the next president of the US in a heartbeat.
Robert G. Kaiser : Alben Barkley, John Sparkman Richard M. Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Spiro Agnew, Jack Kemp--right off the top of my head, a list of VP candidates in my lifetime who had no or very little foreign policy experience. Now of course you could argue that 9/11 changed the world, and changed the job requirements. But I doubt that's so.
I've read that Terry McAuliffe has said that a lead of 8-10 points for Kerry by the end of July is reasonable from the combined bumps of the VP pick and the convention. The cynic in me says that he is surely low-balling his estimate so that it looks like Kerry/Edwards overperforms. What do you think the campaign's private expectations would be? Would they be thrilled or disappointed if the actual bump was, say, 10 points by July 31?
Robert G. Kaiser : My favorite statistic: On October 15, 1980, Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by 7 points in the Gallup Poll. I urge you, and everyone, to relax about poll numbers. Michael Dukakis was 13, or 15, points ahead of Bush I coming out of his convention in Atlanta in 1988. Polls this early mean very little.
What do you think the chances are of the current VP not being on the ticket this time around? There has been plenty of speculation about that possibility; is there anything behind that, or is it simply a juicy story?
Robert G. Kaiser : I hope we can give you a link here to a good story on this subject by my colleague Mike Allen, which ran over the weekend.
Personally I'd be amazed if Cheney is not on the ticket--unless he has another heart attack or episode in the next two months. I think dropping him (or his asking to be dropped) would constitute a kind of admission from Bush that the president just isn't going to make--an admission of error.
When you write that VPs don't make a difference why cite Nixon in '52 as an example of a negative effect? In fact, once he gave the Checkers speech, the telegrams of support poured in for him.
The real examples of a VPs nominees harming the ticket would be Ferraro in '84 with the refusal to disclose her husband's taxes, and Eagleton in '72 with the undisclosed electroshock treatments he received for depression. Of course, since the country is a much different place then it was even 20 years ago, Cold War elections really don't provide useable examples at all.
Robert G. Kaiser : Thanks for the good comments. My recollection is that polls, then quite primitive, showed that Nixon hurt Ike a little, but I could certainly be wrong about that memory.
Ferraro hurt an already hopeless cause; I don't think it made a bit of difference. Eagleton is a more interesting example; it reflected not on EAgleton, of course, but on the man who chose him, McGovern, who never got traction after that fiasco. Would he have done so without it? Impossible to know. Nixon was not popular that year.
You may be right about the irrelevance of cold war elections, but I wouldn't be so sweeping about it. Precedents matter in different ways, at different times. 1948 was a Cold War election, the first; it showed that a good campaign can beat a bad one, as happened (or nearly happened, depending on how you compare popular and electoral votes) in 2000.
I'll try to write more about this in my forthcoming article.
washingtonpost.com: Cheney May Be a Mixed Blessing for Bush Team (Post, July 5)
Glen Burnie, Md.:
Do you expect Edwards' wealth and previous occupation to make him vulnerable to criticism that he no longer can relate to the average American?
Robert G. Kaiser : Personally I don't, because watching him campaign, I think the fact is he DOES relate well to the average American.
Isn't "foreign policy experience" an unreasonable measure? Really, how many people are out there with that kind of experience? Doesn't that make the pool of possible candidates too small?
Robert G. Kaiser : No, there are lots of people with experience in foreign affairs who could be picked to run for vice president.
Dems seem thrilled at the Edwards vs. Cheney debate. However, they were also excited about Lieberman v. Cheney last time. Whether you like Cheney or hate him, he is unflappable in that setting, and no matter how "charming" Edwards thinks he is, I suspect the "ice man" Cheney will hold his own. Your thoughts?
Robert G. Kaiser : I thought Cheney cleaned Lieberman's clock in 2000, and I wouldn't even be tempted to write him off this time. But he has a record now that creates targets for Edwards of a kind Lieberman did not have four years ago.
Edwards is not running for re-election in the Senate -- if the Democrats lose this fall, what will he be left with?
Robert G. Kaiser : High name recognition.
I believe that this could actually be an election season in which the candidate's VP running mate choice makes a difference. -- Polls show that many Americans are alarmed and unhappy at the way things are going, yet they are clearly not connecting with Kerry. Or rather, Kerry is not connecting with them. I personally think the problem is not with the message but with the messenger. -- Edwards may be able to help Kerry bridge that gap and start to connect. He could be a one-man PR campaign for the big guy. And if he is as bright as they say he is (and a really successful trial lawyer cannot be dumb -- he must be very smart and quick), I predict he will soon be, if he isn't already, at least as up on the issues as is the famous genius George W. Bush. So this centrist Democrat is THRILLED!
Robert G. Kaiser : Thanks for posting. I don't think the world's most charming VP candidate can elect a presidential candidate the country doesn't like. But nor do I think the country has yet passed judgement on Kerry. This campaign is in a very early stage, believe it or not.
As a North Carolinian (typing this about 2 miles from Edwards' house), let me just say that this likely puts NC and its 15 votes in the Kerry column (a recent poll had Bush only up 5 points.) It likely puts Erskine Bowles into the Senate. And as for the personal injury lawyer thing...Lauch Faircloth failed with this, because Edwards' clients are very sympathetic figures, not people who burned themselves with McDonald's coffee.
And now, a question...in the modern nominating system, nominees almost never pick guys they beat, for obvious reasons. (Even Bush I was Reagan's 2nd choice, behind Gerald Ford.) Do you think the media will "echo" the Republican talking point of what Kerry said about Edwards this past spring, or do you think the media will realize the primaries were just politics, and dismiss it?
Robert G. Kaiser : Sorry for the delay, I've just been reading dozens of really good comments and questions from all of you. I love this crowd!
I post this as an obviously Democratic view from North Carolina. Any Republicans down there want to comment? Obviously the Kerry campaign will be hoping you are right. And we know already that Bowles is a pretty strong Senate candidate this time. But NC has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, if memory serves (still problematic).
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.:
Quick, your first impression. Imagine: four, no eight - eight years of Kerry speeches!;
The mind recoils.
Thanks much. Looking for Advil..
Robert G. Kaiser : You don't dig his natural, down-to-earth speaking style?
How would you compare Edwards' current level of international policy experience with that of Bush in 2000?
Robert G. Kaiser : roughly equal.
South Riding, Va.:
Do you think that if Kerry was leading Bush decisively in the polls, he would have chosen someone like Gephardt, who might not have Edwards' charisma but whose Washington legislative experience might have helped Kerry govern once he was elected?
Robert G. Kaiser : I don't. No candidate in his right mind would invest heavily in poll results in early July.
I actually think that the choice of John Edwards may be a risk. People could marvel at how much more charisma he has than John Kerry which would make Kerry look bad. Since you believe that the No. 2 man doesn't make a difference, what kind of national message is Kerry trying to convey about himself by picking Edwards?
Robert G. Kaiser : Interesting comment. A lot of Dems who wanted Edwards were nervous that Kerry would agree with you, that he might upstage the Big Guy in a campaign. My experience tells me that the charisma flows to the presidential candidate almost by chemical osmosis. If you weren't in the hall, as I was, it would be hard to believe that Michael Dukakis wowed the Democratic convention in 1988. Polls showed he wowed the country, too, or a big chunk of it. And Kerry is at least Dukakis's equal in natural charisma. In fact I think his body language is already changing in ways that will help him somewhat. He looks, in photographs, steadily more Lincolnesque, I think. Which won't mean anything if he can't learn to talk the talk.
I think Kerry is trying to convey confidence by picking Edwards. He may even succeed in doing so.
How would you rate Edwards standing with "Soccor Moms" and "Nascar Dads". He seems to have the potential to gain alot more traction with this group than the Yale educated Kerry ever could.
Robert G. Kaiser : Hey, I went to Yale too, and I won't sit still for that kind of talk...
On second thought, yes I will. You may well be right. But to repeat, I don't think many voters will pick a ticket to vote for; they'll pick the presidential candidate they want to be president.
One good point pundits are making is
that Edwards' presence may force Bush
to spend time/money on states they
thought they were safe in -- (a) which
states do you see that referring to, and (b)
do you think Edwards can help tip Florida
Robert G. Kaiser : Don't know. Florida is, and will remain, close.
Yesterday I watched Fahrenheit 911 and even in South Carolina, there were a lot of people in the audience. They applauded and cheered when the film ended. Edwards appeals to Southerners and maybe this election could make a beginning on re-claiming South Carolina for the Democratic Party. Reagan took South Carolina away from the Democrats. Edwards could help take it back. Possible, do you think?
Robert G. Kaiser : Possible, and highly unlikely.
Though superficial, how important is it that Kerry and Edwards collectively have a younger, more attractive look than Bush and Cheney?
Robert G. Kaiser : Of course, that's your opinion. If others share it, and if Kerry and Edwards can build on it, they'll surely benefit.
You said that Bush wouldn't ditch Cheney as running mate because that would be an "admission of error." The idea that Bush can't admit error is one of the most biased storylines the press has come up with. Just because he doesn't agree with the groupthink press doesn't mean he can't admit error.
Robert G. Kaiser : So give us a list of the errors he has admitted.
Kerry handlers and factotums continue to press the issue: The voters don't know John yet. That's why the polls are lousy.
So when does the campaign bring out the new model, so the voters DO get to know who he is? Halloween?
Robert G. Kaiser : No, at the end of this month, at the Democratic Convention in Boston.
New York, N.Y.:
Any indication of Dick Gephardt and/or Bob Graham will be considered for positions within the Kerry Administration?
Robert G. Kaiser : Let's hold off on those appointments a while longer...
Didn't Kerry bow to growing Democratic support for Edwards resulting from Edwards openly campaigning for the Veep slot on the ticket? What does this say about Kerry as a decision-maker?
Robert G. Kaiser : I'll post a second view in a moment...
Wasn't this choice inevitable, given Kerry's soomewhat dry persona? My guess is that Kerry deliberated so long because he couldn't believe he was about to pick some young hot shot politician with so little experience over guys he really respected. That being said, the point is to win the election and Edwards has shown he has strong traction with middle America.
Robert G. Kaiser : there's a second view.
This will be the third presidential election I have participated in since I registered at age 18 and from what I remember most candidates had their VP long before the campaign, why didn't Kerry?
Robert G. Kaiser : I don't think your memory is right. The timing of this announcement seems typical for recent challengers. At least that's MY memory.
As you know, Kerry's primary vulnerability remains his fairly bizarre approach to Iraq, in which he authorized the use of force, then decided that he could not in good conscience help to pay for reconstruction. Go figure. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, understands that voting for the former and against the latter is, well, pathetic.
There are positive reasons for picking Edwards, but in addition, Kerry could not afford to pick Gephardt, who was consistent (he voted to authorize the use of force and he voted to pay for reconstruction). Had Kerry picked Gephardt, this wedge between him and Gephardt would have been visibly painful to observe.
Robert G. Kaiser : How Kerry will deal with his (and Edwards') Iraq votes will be interesting to see. They both voted for the Patriot Act also, and now criticize it.
Boston, Mass.: How would you compare Edwards' current level of international policy experience with that of Bush in 2000?
Robert G. Kaiser : roughly equal.
How do you figure? Edwards has been in the Senate and on the Intelligence Committee for the past six years. Bush's claim to international experience was that his state had a border with another country. In substance they are hardly equal. No question, Edwards isn't a foreign policy heavyweigth but he does have some nascent chops, unlike the guy who confused Slovakia and Slovenia...
Robert G. Kaiser : Thanks for the comment.
Delray Beach, Fla.:
On a related topic, is it important for "W" to keep Cheney on the ticket as a proxy for his brother Jeb, so Jeb can run in 2008? That's the rumor here in Florida.
Robert G. Kaiser : So that Jeb can then turn the country over to the Saudi royal family?
Do you think the media will have a "love affair" with Kerry-Edwards like it did with Clinton-Gore in '92. It seems that while the media is infatuated with Edwards, they aren't all that crazy about Kerry. Will the love for Edwards among the DC press corps be "enough love" to help Kerry?
Robert G. Kaiser : Where does this stuff come from? What "love affair" are you talking about? Didn't Perot get a huge amount of media attention in '92? Didn't the press work Clinton over pretty well on the draft, Jennifer Flowers and more?
I've been a reporter, and lived among them, for four decades. I have rarely seen love at work in any of my colleagues' coverage. And never in their coverage of a presidential campaign.
Edwards also has some problems. He plays well to Dems but he is a trial lawyer and this may hurt him with independents. Also don't sell Cheney short in a debate. Edwards youth and inexperience can be used against him. Two senators with voting records will also provide Republicans with a lot ammunition touse against K/e. Johnson helped steal the election for JFK along with Daley in Chicago. Please read your history. Oops your a journalist!;
Robert G. Kaiser : Good points. Thanks for posting.
p.s. I don't think your a grammarian.
Or they do not pick the person they want to be president. The mantra of most democrats this year is "not Bush." So a lot of votes are going to Kerry because they do not want Bush.
Robert G. Kaiser : I don't think that's enough. In the end, swing voters, particularly, will want to believe they have picked the best man for president. Of course, if they are emotionally committed against either, then it will be easy to justify voting for the other. But Americans think of their president as a kind of elected king; they don't pick people they don't think are up to the job, and the role.
There was an AP story over the weekend that said there are growing signs the nation's youngest voters might actually be interested this time around. The possibility of a draft and the long term outlook on terrorism were two reasons cited.
I'm a 21-year-old college student, I follow the news extremely closely and I plan to vote. However I've always thought I'm more of an exception for people my age than the norm. I think my age group is generally being ignored as usual but if this AP story has any merit, that is a large segment of voters that could play a significant role in the election.
Any insight on this issue? If so, do you think the pick of the youthful Edwards over someone like Gephardt could help among the young voters?
Robert G. Kaiser : I think the degree to which young voters can be mobilized this year is a key to Kerry's chances. Battleground polls, particularly the well-respected Ohio Poll, show that 18-25 (or is it 18-30?) year old voters heavily favor Kerry so far. If that holds, and if chosing Edwards encourages it, then obviously Kerry would benefit enormously from a big turnout of young voters.
Personally, this is the way I think Farenheit 9/11 (which I havent yet seen myself) could make a difference this year. Our reporting suggests that kids like the movie. Will it have any effect on how many vote? You tell me.
Does anybody think that since Nader expressed his opinion that Kerry should pick Edwards, that perhaps Kerry is hoping that Nader will withdraw (at some point) and throw his support to Kerry?
Robert G. Kaiser : Someone may think it, but I don't.
As an attorney, I fear Sen. Edwards' position on the burgeoning medical malpractice crisis facing the doctors and patents in this country. Is he open-minded or beholden to the trail lawyers of this country?
Robert G. Kaiser : This will have to be the last question today, and it will be a stand-in for a lot of other questions about Edwards' status as a very successful trial lawyer before he went into politics.
I have seen no evidence that Edwards is "beholden" to trial lawyers, and I've seen lots of evidence that he thinks like a trial lawyer. In North Carolina, many political observers have said that he beat Lauch Faircloth for the Senate six years ago with commercials that showed his former clients talking about how Edwards helped them win a legal fight against some powerful entity that had done them wrong. Edwards' former clients love the man. And so do his fellow trial lawyers, who were the single biggest source of funds for his presidential candidacy this year.
As Tampa points out, a lot of Americans, and a lot involved in medical care, consider trial lawyers to be villains. But a lot of others like them just fine. Bush made political hay in Texas by opposing trial lawyers, and I expect Republicans will try to do so against Edwards now. What effect it may have I cannot say. Edwards has seemed to enjoy defending himself and his profession in the past.
Thanks to all for another lively discsusion.
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