Ending months of suspense, Sen. John Kerry on Tuesday turned to his vanquished primary election rival, fellow Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, as his running mate for this fall’s presidential campaign.
Addressing a rally in Pittsburgh, Kerry thanked all those he had considered for agreeing to go through “what is inevitably a very intrusive and even frustrating process.”
Kerry was said to be more comfortable personally with two other reported finalists, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. But he said he turned to Edwards because “I am determined that we reach out across party lines, that we reach the heart of America, that we speak of hope and optimism — and John Edwards will join me in doing that.”
He embraced Edwards’ trademark campaign theme — a pledge to bridge “the great divide” between “two Americas,” the privileged and ordinary working people. “That concern is at the center of this campaign,” Kerry said. “It is what it is all about. It has been part of my fight for 35 years. And I am so proud that together we’re going to build one America.”
“This is about fairness,” he said, “about fundamental fairness for all Americans.”
Edwards has been a force to reckon with politically since the come-from-nowhere upset victory in 1998 that landed him in the Senate on his first try for elective office.
By the time Edwards bowed out of the Democratic presidential sweepstakes March 2, the articulate Southerner had won many new fans within his party. And he has built upon his second-place showing in the primary season with energetic stumping for Kerry across the country.
It is not clear that Edwards can deliver a single state to Kerry’s column in November, including his own home of North Carolina. But he unquestionably brings enthusiasm, optimism and an infectious, upbeat personal charisma that ignites crowds and appeals to voters across ideological lines.
Edwards, 51, a highly successful trial lawyer, will also energize the business community — in opposition. Republicans have made attacks on trial lawyers a bedrock political principle in recent years.
The North Carolina senator was not at Kerry’s side for the announcement, but Kerry said that Edwards and his wife Elizabeth would be traveling to Pittsburgh later in the day to join Kerry and his wife Teresa for the evening. They were expected to start campaigning together on Wednesday.
Kerry’s selection of Edwards marked the first time in 44 years that two sitting senators will run together on a presidential ticket. In 1972, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern selected Missouri Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton as his vice presidential running mate, but Eagleton withdrew after it was disclosed he had undergone treatment for depression. In 1960, Democratic Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was elected president on a ticket with Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas.
A Powerful Theme
Ferrell Guillory, a longtime Edwards watcher and director of the Program on Southern Politics, Media and the Public Life at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was among those saying that Edwards brings more than charisma to the ticket. They say he has struck a deeply resonant chord by vowing to close the gap between “two Americas” — one of privilege that he says the Bush administration has served with tax cuts and other policies that favor the wealthy, and one of hard-working ordinary Americans who are getting left behind. That theme meshes well with Kerry’s campaign message that Bush policies are squeezing a struggling middle class.
“If you just say it’s his charisma, you miss the deeper story,” Guillory said.
Edwards, a centrist, has a populist and Southern style that will appeal to voters outside the South, too, said Democratic strategist and pollster Celinda Lake. It should resonate in battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan, places hard hit by manufacturing job losses in recent years and where voters tend to be moderate to conservative, Lake said.
Robert Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, said Edwards’ centrist agenda was not his favorite. But Edwards came closest of all the candidates to the broad populist message likely to unite a diverse coalition of voters behind a Democratic majority, Borosage said.
In that, his message is like that of Republican President Ronald Reagan — “big enough to unite people across lines of race and class,” Borosage said.
Edwards’ shortcoming as a vice presidential candidate is his relative lack of experience in public life, just as it was during his bid for president. He had never run for elective office or been involved in politics before coming from nowhere in 1998 to defeat incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth.
Critics have portrayed Edwards a lightweight and an opportunist, someone seeking political success on the strength of positioning and personality rather than ideology or program. His supporters say he is a compelling communicator and a diligent worker with a sharp mind, a mix of style and substance that has only increased in power during his time in the Senate.
Since 2001, Edwards has sought to reach deeply into foreign policy and national security issues, extending his range beyond the consumer and health care issues that dominated his Senate campaign and his first two years in office. But his relatively brief experience with those issues is not a shortcoming in this campaign, Lake said. Kerry already is strong on foreign policy and national issues, Lake said.
Second in Primaries
For all of his campaign skills, Edwards during the primaries this year simply could not surmount the momentum generated by Kerry, who jumped into a commanding position with his campaign-opening wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Edwards had labored for months in relative obscurity, as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean vaulted to the top of the Democratic ranks in polls and fundraising.
But Edwards generated some momentum with a strong second-place finish in Iowa, which he followed up two weeks later with a decisive victory in South Carolina. He cemented his status as Kerry’s chief rival with second-place showings in Virginia and Tennessee on Feb. 10 that forced another contender, retired general Wesley K. Clark, from the race. Edwards’ near-upset of Kerry in Wisconsin on Feb. 17 eliminated Dean.
Given just two weeks for a one-on-one battle with Kerry, Edwards had hoped to extend his campaign at least through March 9 contests in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. But he failed to win any of the 10 states that voted March 2, coming close only in Georgia, where he lost to Kerry by 5 percentage points. He dropped out immediately, throwing his support to Kerry.
Reaction to Choice
Many Democratic delegates to the Boston convention had actively promoted Edwards’ selection on the grounds that he would bring increased energy and geographic balance to the ticket.
“John Kerry’s selection of John Edwards is a terrific choice that is going to fire up the Democratic base vote and appeal to swing and independent voters all across the country,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.
“The Kerry-Edwards ticket will compete in every region of the country, and boost our candidates to victory in November,” said Joe Erwin, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
The Republican National Committee called Edwards a “disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and friend to personal injury trial lawyers.”