Jewish World Review July 12, 2004 / 23 Tamuz, 5764
Carl P. Leubsdorf
Can Edwards boost Kerry like LBJ helped JFK in 1960?
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In picking Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, John Kerry has successfully passed the first of three major tests that could determine whether he reaches the White House.
If he does as well in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston and in this fall's debates against President Bush, he'll have an excellent chance of becoming the first northern Democrat to win the White House since another Massachusetts senator with the same initials, John F. Kennedy.
Indeed, there are some interesting similarities between Kerry's choice of Edwards and Kennedy's selection in 1960 of Texas Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson.
Both were Northerners who picked Southern running mates, and both picked someone whose presence on the ticket provides at least the perception of a political moderate to offset the top man's reputation as a liberal.
If Edwards won't necessarily guarantee any Southern states the way that Johnson ensured that Kennedy would win in Texas, he will engender greater enthusiasm among Southern Democratic politicians and perhaps help the party's candidates in several of the region's key Senate races.
In addition, both picked the rival who finished second in the race for the presidential nomination despite some occasionally strained moments during those primary battles.
And as was the case when Kennedy picked Johnson, Kerry has opted for someone who provides both substantive and political strength over candidates to whom he was closer personally.
The North Carolinian's campaign mantra, contrasting the "two Americas," should reinforce Kerry's message in the politically crucial industrial belt from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. His energy should enhance an already enthusiastic Democratic base.
But there are significant differences beyond the fact that Johnson was a Washington veteran who was one of his party's main congressional leaders and Edwards is a junior senator with just over five years in public office.
The youthful Kennedy picked an older, more seasoned mate in Johnson, while Kerry has done just the opposite, adding Edwards' youthful enthusiasm to his own long years in elective office.
In so doing, he enables Democrats to draw a sharp contrast with the No. 2 man on the Republican ticket, Vice President Dick Cheney. That contrast will be especially evident in October's vice presidential debate.
Still, any fair assessment of the Edwards choice must also contain some cautionary notes.
While Edwards is intelligent and articulate, his inexperience was evident in his occasional difficulty during Democratic debates in explaining his votes on controversial issues. Cheney will certainly be forceful in exploiting any such instances.
Though Edwards' courtroom experience means he's extremely quick on his feet, his presentations sometimes seemed too programmed. Debate formats often require an ability to adapt and to improvise.
And while Edwards has been able to turn his years as a highly paid trial lawyer into a plus by citing cases in which he won big settlements from big corporations for injured children and other victims, many Americans bridle at such massive settlements and have disdain for lawyers.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the major weakness in Edwards' resume is that his relatively brief tenure in office means his national security experience pales alongside that of Cheney in an election where that will be an important subject.
However, Democrats can argue that experience failed to keep Cheney from making dubious recommendations on Iraq. And the fact that Edwards polled the votes of thousands of primary and caucus voters was a sign those voters regarded him as qualified to lead the country.
Still, the choice needs to be kept in perspective. While Johnson clearly helped to elect Kennedy, that's rarely been the case with vice presidential candidates.
So if the Edwards choice has any ultimate impact on the 2004 outcome, it will be because it helps Kerry to make his case that he can provide the country with energetic new leadership.
06/28/04: Reagan set the pattern for debates that Bush should follow