It comes as a great relief to have John Edwards on the ticket for many reasons.
John Edwards was the best campaigner in the 2004 primary. If he had had an organization like that of Kerry, or even Howard Dean, it is possible that he would be the one choosing a running mate, and not Kerry. His ability to connect with an audience is on par with Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He keeps audiences excited, he can get a message across effectively, and he should help improve John Kerry’s campaigning. (Remember Kerry was at his best when he was pressed by Edwards in the primary – Kerry may be good under pressure, but Edwards style made him loosen up, so as to not appear so stiff.) Also since none of the other three candidates in this race are particularly good retail campaigners, Edwards will be a breath of fresh air.
Politically, it makes the GOP take some of their resources and put it into North Carolina. I don’t expect that Kerry will win NC, but BC04 certainly cannot take it for granted. It also means that Edwards will be spending a lot of time in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, where being the son of a mill worker, who became a successful trial lawyer will mean something. (As much as the beltway crowd rolls their eyes when they hear something like that, for real people, it gives hope that no matter their circumstance, their kids can still achieve something.) It will also help Kerry to have a southern accent to rely on in Louisiana, Arkansas and the panhandle of Florida and I would expect to have Edwards narrated ads up there very soon.
And I think Edwards will come across as the most likeable person in the race. Certainly more than Cheney or Kerry, and probably more than Bush.
The criticisms of Edwards (at least the initial barrage) are twofold: he is inexperienced and he is a trial lawyer. The inexperience push is what the GOP is especially pushing hard, and it does resonate a bit, especially in the foreign policy area. But in the end this won’t be a factor because he is a V.P. nominee; his foreign policy credentials are the same, or perhaps greater those that Junior or Ronal Reagan brought to the table; and because Edwards will probably never look like he does not understand what is going on, he is too good a trial lawyer for that.
As for being a trial lawyer, it is a big bugaboo among some of the GOP faithful, but I have never seen it resonate beyond that echo chamber. Edwards made a very compelling case during the primaries that being a trial lawyer allowed him to face off against corporations and HMOs who were trying to screw the little guy. In a face-off between trial lawyers and HMOs or corporations who are shipping jobs overseas, who do you think the average voter would choose.
(As an aside I saw Elizabeth Dole trying to make these points last night on Hardball, and there may not be a worse person to put on TV. She tried to attack Edwards, but either her heart wasn’t in it, or she wasn’t competent enough to do. It is amazing that she once tried to run for President.)
In the end the Edwards choice was by far the best one that Kerry could make. I don’t think that V.P. nominees make much difference in the end, but Edwards may help Kerry to hone his game and make him a better candidate, and in the end that will make a big difference.