The Edwards Pick: Early Assessment

Larry Sabato, a TV talking head who sometimes teaches political science at UVA, has published an assessment of John Edwards’ pluses and minuses as a vice presidential nominee. Joe Gandleman has the short version.

Sabato’s immediate reaction to the impact on the race as a whole is interesting:

1. We are changing North Carolina from Solid Bush to Leans Bush. Even though Edwards will make North Carolina competitive, Bush’s 56% in 2000 is a mountain to climb for Kerry. Moreover, the one-term Edwards has never been terribly popular in his home state, and he essentially abandoned his Senate seat to seek the presidency (he has one of the worst attendance records in the Senate). He won his first and only office in 1998 with just 51% of the vote, and polls during his tenure have found his job approval to be anemic–often near 40%. Still, the enormous burst of positive publicity with his VP selection should push Kerry-Edwards into a tie with, or even above, Bush-Cheney in N.C. Our guess is that this will be a temporary bump, but Edwards’ campaign skills are such that the Bush campaign will unexpectedly have to spend considerable sums in the state, and it can take nothing for granted. Plus, should Kerry-Edwards continue to pick up momentum, the Tar Heel State might well become winnable for the two Democrats in November. Obviously, a victory for Kerry in the heart of Bush’s Southern base would likely prove fatal to Bush’s reelection chances. We’re not there yet, though. Furthermore, we currently do not see Edwards having any real effect on North Carolina’s Bush-leaning Southern neighbors: Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The only state in this group that Edwards won in the Democratic primaries was South Carolina, and the Palmetto State is one of the least likely to defect from the Bush column. Edwards was born in S.C., though, so it will be interesting to see whether he attempts to turn conventional wisdom on its head there. Bush will likely win but there could be some effect on the relatively close U.S. Senate contest, currently leaning Republican.

2. We are changing the North Carolina U.S. Senate race from Toss-Up to Leans Democratic.

The reasoning here is sound enough. Like Sabato, though, I think the race will come down to Bush versus Kerry–which is to say, Bush Stay versus Bush Go. Edwards was a smart, safe pick. He’s not going to energize the race in the way that Hillary Clinton or Howard Dean would have, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the down side of those candidates, either.

New Republic has a roundtable discussion involving Jonathan Cohn, Jonathan Chait, Franklin Foer & Joe Trippi, called “Onwards and Edwards.” Chait has an interesting observation:

Kerry thinks like a senator, and senators respect people who have been in office a really long time and mastered an issue. If Kerry could have somehow been absolutely certain that he’d be elected, I bet he’d havehosen somebody like Joe Biden. The Edwards pick suggests Kerry is willing to accede to the judgment of the political professionals.

I think that’s right. Ironically, I think Biden would have been a better pick. Despite the issues that derailed his own presidential bid a few years back, he’s widely respected and his foreign policy judgment is hard to dismiss.

UPDATE: WSJ — Business Elite Vows To Take On Kerry If He Taps Edwards

Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has made a public vow: If John Edwards is chosen as John Kerry’s running mate, the chamber will abandon its traditional stance of neutrality in the presidential race and work feverishly to defeat the Democratic ticket. “We’d get the best people and the greatest assets we can rally” to the cause, he says.

Other business leaders in Washington have been less public and less precise, but no less passionate. Reviewing the candidates in the Democratic primaries earlier this year, a Fortune 100 chief executive who is active in Washington told me that Mr. Edwards, the North Carolina senator, “is the one we fear the most” — more than John Kerry, more than Dick Gephardt, more than Howard Dean.

None of this is personal. These businessmen barely know Sen. Edwards and would probably find him a far more engaging dinner companion than most of his fellow Democrats — Sen. Kerry included. Nor is it completely rational. Mr. Edwards’s political and policy views are more moderate — and more in line with business — than those of Gov. Dean, Rep. Gephardt or even Sen. Kerry. But Mr. Edwards is a trial lawyer. His campaign for the presidency was financed by trial lawyers. And there is nothing that makes America’s CEOs see red these days like America’s trial lawyers. “It’s visceral,” says one person who works with a group of chief executives. “You can feel it in a room.” The nation’s top executives view the plaintiff’s bar as modern-day mobsters, shaking down corporations by bringing endless lawsuits that are too costly and too dangerous to litigate and that result in settlements costing billions to the corporate bottom line. The antipathy, while not new, has never been greater.

Interesting. As we’ve known all along, the Bush campaign will do it all to make “Trial Lawyer” part of Edward’s name.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Isn’t it sad how the Kerry people spent all that time hyping his pick and it turned out to be the boring choice we all knew it would be in the first place?

    But here are my two points of analysis:
    1) Edwards doesn’t bring a single vote that Kerry wouldn’t have gotten anyway; and
    2) Cheney will make Edwards look like a child in the VP debate.

  2. C.J. says:

    Re Cheney making Edwards look like a child: I actually think people will be reminded that the next in line in the Bush admin has had several heart attacks and often seems to have one foot in the grave. Edwards was a trial lawyer, so he’ll have energy during the debates – an energy that is entirely different than the “I am a male and superior to all” voice that Cheney takes on when explaining things. Don’t get me wrong, Cheney hooked me with that voice since it reminded me so much of my own father. But I’m guessing most voters will be swayed more by a charismatic young man than their father. Edwards is Dan Quayle with intelligence.

  3. CJ: No, Edwards is just Dan Quayle.

  4. norbizness says:

    Yeah, like the US Chamber of Commerce was going to take a powder if it wasn’t Edwards.

    Oh, no! They’ve roused the sleeping giant! (/mock cowering)

  5. Edwards adds nothing but relief from snoozeville!

    The Dems took an old, grey French Poodle, bought it a new collar, put a nice blaze orange vest on it and set it out in the wheat scrub – anyone but the liberals know that dog ain’t gonna hunt!

  6. Jim says:

    Could Kerry find a more predictable choice? I have a feeling that the bounce will be less then expected: Edwards peaked as a vice-Presdient choice about two weeks ago.

  7. Tom says:

    He made millions as a trial lawyer;Americas’ CEO’s will
    fight him/Kerry tooth and nail.
    He also has a poor record as a big liberal Senator.