On the Campaign Trail
Many See Edwards as the Man For the Ticket's No. 2 Spot
By Vanessa Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 17, 2004; Page A07
MILWAUKEE, Feb. 16 -- The longer and harder Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) fights to remain in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the more he hears that he should be on the party's ticket in November -- as the number two.
Though Edwards has steadfastly said he is not interested in being vice president, voters who have followed his campaign -- from his second-place finish in Iowa last month to his battle to make a strong showing in Wisconsin on Tuesday -- have already chosen him to be the running mate of front-runner Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).
A Kerry-Edwards ticket is a constant topic of speculation on television and radio talk shows and in newspaper columns. It has become a routine query at Edwards's news conferences. Jay Leno teased Edwards about it during the senator's appearance on "The Tonight Show" last week. In New Hampshire, where Edwards drew big and enthusiastic crowds but placed fourth just behind retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the North Carolina senator got 16,641 write-in votes for vice president; Clark trailed far behind in the VP race, finishing second with 7,636 write-in votes.
Ellis Baylis, 54, was among about 30 employees of Tower Automotive in Milwaukee who met with Edwards last week, when the company announced that it was moving about 500 jobs, including Baylis's, to Mexico. Although his union is supporting Kerry, Baylis said, he and his wife are drawn to Edwards because of his working-class background and because "he's young and energetic."
"Kerry seems to be the front-runner now. . . . I hope if Edwards does not get the nomination for president that Kerry will consider him for his vice president," Baylis said.
For many, the desire to have Edwards on the ticket in November has grown as Kerry has strengthened his front-runner status, capturing 14 of 16 delegate contests in the past four weeks. Some voters have bought into Edwards's argument that as a son of the South he is needed to help the party win southern states in the general election. Others say that although he has enthusiasm and good ideas, he is too young -- he looks younger than his 50 years -- and inexperienced to be president, and that a stint as vice president would round him out.
But most are so impressed with Edwards's persona on the stump -- a fiery populist message delivered by a candidate who exudes energy and optimism -- that they say they will take him any way they can get him. Although Kerry has not secured the nomination, a recent Time magazine poll found that 71 percent of Democrats like the idea of a Kerry-Edwards lineup.
Among those Democrats are people such as Greg Goldsborough. A Kerry button on his lapel and a campaign sign for the Massachusetts senator on his lap, Goldsborough rose along with much of the audience to applaud Edwards several times during his speech Saturday night at the Wisconsin Democratic Party's annual dinner.
Goldsborough, who is working with Kerry's Illinois campaign, said that given the national security and foreign policy concerns facing the White House, he believes Kerry's experience is necessary. "But I certainly think Senator Edwards has brought a lot to the race and has a bright future in the party -- and it may be on this ticket," he said.
The Edwards campaign's response to this is mixed. "It's flattering to the extent that they really like him, they tuned into his story, and they like his message," said Ed Turlington, Edwards's campaign chairman. "I would argue that there is still a path for him to get the nomination." That path would have Edwards compete one-on-one with Kerry in the next round of primaries on March 2, when voters in large states such as California and New York get a chance to weigh in.
Edwards used to show a hint of annoyance at the vice president question, but recently he has greeted it with a smile and quipped, "How about Edwards-Kerry?" When Leno teased him recently, the candidate joked about making the talk-show host his running mate.
Courtney Everts, a student at the Mayo Clinic, was home in Pewaukee, Wis., for the long holiday weekend, part of which she spent canvassing for Edwards. On Sunday, she came with her mother and a friend to cheer her candidate during a rally at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha. She said Edwards was the first national candidate she felt truly inspired to support since she reached voting age seven years ago. She lamented that his chances to win the nomination this time seem to be fading and has begun to come around to the idea of Vice President Edwards.
"I think part of me would like to see him regroup and go for another shot at the presidency" in four years, Everts said. "But by the same token, I think a lot of people's hesitancy about him is his lack of experience and lack of time in Washington, and I can't help but think that that would be a positive. . . . Maybe you've got to come in someplace not quite where you want to be to get where you belong."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company