The New Romance
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2004; 8:27 AM
Are the media in love with John Edwards?
During the seemingly endless veepstakes, the loudest message from the punditocracy was that the North Carolinian was the best running mate out there and Kerry would be crazy not to pick him.
So Kerry taps the Son of a Millworker and--whaddya know--gets lots and lots of upbeat coverage.
What a genius!
Kerry had to know that if he'd gone with Gephardt, he would have been derided for a dull, uninspiring choice. Edwards, meanwhile, was clearly the media candidate.
Look at the accolades that have come Kerry's way. The choice showed him to be "methodical, discreet, coolly pragmatic and exceedingly self-assured" (New York Times); "comfortable enough with his own national security experience to select a running mate with little background in foreign policy or defense" (Boston Globe); "secure enough to have picked a running mate widely judged to be the more effective campaigner" (Washington Post).
We're sooooo easy to please.
One of the few major-pundit dissenters is William Safire, who says Kerry picked John E. BeGood out of a lack of confidence that he can connect with jus' folks and isn't eligible for a charisma transplant.
Anyone watching the picture-perfect photo op in the verdant hills outside Teresa's Pennsylvania estate could see the benefits of an Edwards veepdom. The families looked great together, and Kerry was relaxed enough to pick up 4-year-old Jack Edwards afterward. John Edwards brimmed with enthusiasm as he heaped praise on Kerry (same thing at a later campaign stop where he kept holding forth in a rainstorm--is it considered un-veepish to have someone hold an umbrella so you don't get soaked?). As Slate observed, Edwards sells Kerry better than Kerry sells himself.
I've interviewed Edwards and he's a charming guy--passionate and disciplined at the same time. When I snuck into the hall for a New Hampshire debate last winter, the other eight candidates gazed into the middle distance as they fielded questions. Edwards was the only one who sensed where the cameras were, who played to the television audience.
Sure, the news reports and television segments touched on his weaknesses. Inexperienced freshman senator: Check. No foreign-policy credentials: Check. Controversial trial-lawyer background: Check. Doesn't automatically bring a state: Check.
But these were mere ripples in the positive wave of coverage and profiles. I didn't hear any reporters grumbling about how the John-John ticket set up these pretty pictures and happy rallies but weren't exactly taking press questions.
Still, it's early, and the initial froth may give way to Unanswered Questions about the new No. 2.
The New York Times, in a report from Ohio, suggests one John is morphing into another:
"By the rally's end, Mr. Kerry was sounding themes somewhat reminiscent of Mr. Edwards's paean in the primaries to those 'living from paycheck to paycheck.'
"'John and I are fighting together now to restore truth to the discussion between Americans, to restore hope to families who are struggling to make ends meet,' Mr. Kerry said.
"Mr. Edwards, 51, whose boyish good looks and Southern-accented charm threaten to overshadow his staid running mate, gave a slightly shorter speech than Mr. Kerry, who is 60, devoting nearly every sentence to the top man on the ticket and invoking his own up-from-bootstraps success story only to argue Mr. Kerry's case."
The president, in North Carolina by coincidence, fired back:
"A feisty President Bush suggested today that Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, is unqualified to hold such high office, and he predicted that he would again carry North Carolina and the South," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Asked to compare Edwards to Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush replied curtly: 'Dick Cheney can be president. Next (question).'"
A pretty clever five-word answer, I must say. "In flatly predicting that he and Cheney would win the Tarheel State and the South -- despite a North Carolinian on the Democratic ticket -- Bush asserted that Southern voters 'understand that the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values.'"
Here, by the way, is my report on Kerry's new ad blitz.
The New York Post, no longer touting Gephardt as the pick, wonders: Where's the bounce?
"John Kerry's selection of charismatic North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as his running mate gave him a single-digit bounce in the polls -- considerably less than the party's two previous White House candidates.
"A CBS News poll taken immediately after Kerry picked Edwards found the Democrat had gained 4 percent in the polls, while an NBC News survey showed him up a more impressive 9 percent.
"Four years ago, presidential wannabe Al Gore's candidacy got a 17-point shot in the arm after he chose Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the first Jew to run for national office. And in 1992, Bill Clinton's campaign experienced a whopping 19-point bounce when he tapped Gore as his running mate.
"The Clinton-Gore bounce was huge -- and differs from the circumstances of Kerry-Edwards -- because it was measured around the time of the Democratic convention, and it was further boosted by third-party candidate Ross Perot's temporary withdrawal from the race."
I'd argue that whatever bounce Kerry ends up with can't be measured the day after the announcement, because it takes a few days for people to be exposed to the media coverage and to see the ticket in action.
The action is about to shift to the Hill, says the Boston Globe:
"With two senators slated for the Democratic ticket, the presidential campaign yesterday moved to the Senate floor, where members battled over class-action lawsuits, giving Republicans an opportunity to take indirect shots at the chamber's most famous trial lawyer, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
"The debate -- like that expected over the gay marriage amendment scheduled to come before the Senate next week -- put Edwards and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry in an increasingly common position: having to take a politically difficult stand on a divisive issue or suffer criticism for missing the vote."
The Washington Times focuses on the one issue largely overlooked by the press:
"The Democratic presidential ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards campaigned together for the first time yesterday, with Mr. Kerry saying their appeal boils down to their values, their vision -- and their hair.
"'We think this is a dream ticket,' Mr. Kerry told a rally of thousands in Cleveland yesterday. 'We've got better vision. We've got better ideas. We've got real plans. We've got a better sense of what's happening to America, and we've got better hair. And I'll tell you, that goes a long way.'
"Particularly in the case of Mr. Edwards, that intangible was not lost on supporters who turned out in a park near Cleveland's city hall, on the shore of Lake Erie, to be the first to greet the unified ticket. 'He's a handsome young man, and a lot of women are going to vote for him,' said Bill Schmiedel, 61, who belongs to the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades."
Sounds silly--except I heard some women callers on talk radio saying the same thing.
New Republic campaign-watcher Ryan Lizza is struck by "how successful the Bush campaign has been in injecting its anti-Edwards talking points into the media's bloodstream. I suspect this is because Edwards is such a known quantity to most reporters and his choice isn't a big surprise. Since the Kerry campaign has restricted the number of Democrats who can speak as surrogates for Edwards... there seems to be a bit of a news vacuum that the Bush team is successfully exploiting.
"Anyway, the cable networks have given lots of coverage to the new Bush ad, 'First Choice,' which shows McCain praising the president, an effort to remind voters that McCain rejected Kerry's appeals to join the ticket. But I haven't seen any mention of the fact that in 2000 Bush asked McCain if he was interested in being his running mate, and Bush was similarly rejected. I had completely forgotten about this bit of history until several people today e-mailed me this quote from McCain on 'The Today Show' on March 18:
"'I'm not running for vice president. President Bush in 2000 asked me if I was interested in being vice president. I said no then. I'm not interested in being vice president now.'
"Sounds like Cheney was Bush's second choice."
By the way, that McCain ad is running only on cable, not in a big-league buy in the 18 Batttleground States.
Rich Lowry sees the shadow of JFK, and not just in the hair:
"John Kerry and John Edwards are, in their own ways, John F. Kennedy wannabes -- Kerry in his own mind, and Edwards in the minds of his supporters and of an admiring press corps. As a writer in the Boston Globe described the Kerry-Edwards competition during the Democratic primaries, 'Though JFK was Kerry's political hero and role model, it is the charismatic Edwards who more often evokes memories of the last U.S. senator to be elected president.' Now the two join forces in an attempt -- between Kerry's Boston accent and Edwards's good looks -- to cobble together a reasonable facsimile of JFK.
"In one sense, it's a natural and balanced ticket. The aloof Kerry has been called 'a slick operator without the slick.' By picking Edwards, he addresses that deficiency. Edwards, who the master Bill Clinton has said "can talk an owl out of a tree," has slick to spare. He is slick to the point of oleaginous. The North Carolina senator thrived in the Democratic primaries on a broad smile and winning stage presence that made up for the fact that he rarely had anything interesting or substantive to say.
"But, who cares, so long as he can help usher in a new Camelot? The hold JFK has over Democrats is extraordinary. Kerry would be the second consecutive Democratic president yearning to reprise the glories of Kennedy's 1,000 days."
But doesn't the incumbent ranch owner emulate Reagan?
The Note notes what we're not seeing in the coverage:
"Nary a discouraging word from within the party about The Pick -- and nothing at all (think Lieberman, 2000) from any of the party's wings about unhappiness with Edwards. In fact, except for Chris 'I'm a Rookie' Heinz and Ed 'Yes, I Really Was the DNC Chair' Rendell, no Democrat has been heard to utter a discouraging word about John Edwards for months.
"Despite efforts to find distance between them, the press has found only thin gruel to show any meaningful issues conflicts between the top and bottom of the ticket (again, think Lieberman and Gore in 2000 and how much of the early coverage was about that) . . .
"No media chants of 'who is this guy?' (think Vilsack) and little press credence in any Quayle comparisons."
Progresssive Editor Matthew Rothschild makes a classy observation:
"Edwards talks about class in a way that John Kerry never could. And it's a crucial issue.
"Kerry, and especially his wife Teresa, stand at the pinnacle of privilege. Anything they say about class reeks of noblesse oblige.
"But Edwards can walk the walk. And boy can he talk! His 'Two Americas' speech during the primaries was one of the most radical speeches I've ever heard."
As for the inevitable Cheney comparison, Salon's Tim Grieve has that covered:
"Bush and Cheney seldom appear together, perhaps out of security concerns, or perhaps because Cheney's appearance at times diminishes Bush's. When Cheney does campaign, he seems to do so reluctantly; if every campaign stop seems like a day at Disneyland for Edwards, it looks like a visit to the proctologist for Cheney. As the New York Times noted over the weekend, Cheney seems to view campaigning as a chore, speeches something to get through. He reads from notes, seldom looking up, and when he's not reciting dry statistics about the economy, he's warning darkly that 'the enemy' is everywhere and might strike at any minute."
Is that how he now refers to Kerry and Edwards?
Blogger Matthew Yglesias says the veep choice "had me thinking for a while that I wished Edwards had gotten the nomination instead of Kerry. He's certainly the better politician, and I think he'd make a better president besides, though it's hard to be 100% sure about this since he doesn't have any dramatically different issue positions.
"But then I thought back to what I thought during the Kerry-Edwards phase of the primary, which is that Edwards would have been slaughtered on national security by the Bush team. I think an Edwards Administration would do fine on foreign policy, and Kerry's 'nam experience and generally dull demeanor obviously aren't real national security assets, but politically I think they help, even the dullness, which normally hurts him.
"It would be too easy to paint Edwards as the wrong man for the times, while Kerry can project an atmosphere of seriousness, courage, and guts that will convince at least some of the electorate. In this I think the hoi polloi of the primary electorate showed better judgment than liberal elites inside the Beltway who were overly impressed by the fact that substantively Edwards is good on security. If you could win votes with substance well, then, we'd have ourselves a very different world.
"The reality is that 2004 just didn't put forward a really ideal Democratic contender, though you had lots of guys with good elements."
At last, a conservative has made the needed observation about next month's Madison Square Garden gathering.
"The lineup of primetime speakers at the Republican Convention," says National Review's Kate O'Beirne, "predictably reflects its New York location by giving prominent spots to the hosts, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki. But those enjoying the coveted spotlight also pay tribute to New York's former Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Joining the hosts will be other mavericks and dissidents who represent a minority in Ronald Reagan's GOP. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona's Senator John McCain, and California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will all be at the primetime podium. The only announced speaker who actually agrees with President Bush on major issues is Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia.
"The decision to showcase rogue elephants as representatives of the modern Republican party is not the mark of a self-confident party establishment. If the lineup is intended to make an overwhelmingly conservative party attractive to swing voters, it does so by pretending to be something it's not. The Republican party seems to habitually internalize the criticisms of its opponents. When the only Reagan Republican to enjoy a prominent supporting role at the party's convention is a Democrat, the GOP has a serious identity problem. The Kerry-Edwards ticket is liberal. The Boston convention will not be featuring Louisiana senator John Breaux in an attempt to pretend otherwise."
Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum seconds that emotion:
"If America is so damn conservative, why is the Republican party afraid to put any red-blooded conservatives on prime time TV shortly before the election? Why are they so afraid of the social conservatives who make up the heart and soul of their party?
"I'm with Kate on this: Rick 'Man on Dog' Santorum deserves a prominent speaking slot at the convention -- and he should be encouraged to speak his mind. Let's find out just how conservative America really is, shall we?"
More on that, I'm sure, after we get done chewing over the Boston convention.
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