Which of these statements are racist? Which are sexist? Or which are merely political?
"We can't make John black; we can't make him a woman. Those things get you a lot of press, worth a certain amount of fund-raising dollars," says Elizabeth Edwards.
"I guarantee you African-American turnout if I'm the nominee goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum," says Barack Obama.
"I know there are people who either say or wonder, 'Would we ever elect a woman president?' And you know, I don't think we'll know until we try," says Hillary Clinton.
Generally speaking, most of us think it is OK to make appeals for votes based on race or sex just as long as you are in a minority group or are a woman.
But you can't raise fears based on race or sex. You are not supposed to say: "Hey, a black man cannot win the presidency in 2008. A woman cannot win the presidency in 2008."
And you can't, of course, say, "Vote for me because I am white," or, "Vote for me because I am a man."
This creates a dilemma for John Edwards, who, as his wife reminds us, is a white male (not a group accustomed to being disadvantaged).
John Edwards happens to believe he can do better with rural, white, downscale voters than either Obama or Hillary can.
But it is tough for Edwards to come out and actually say that. So maybe he uses code, instead.
For example, he says: "If you're running in a tough congressional district ... you gotta ask yourself, would you rather have Sen. Obama at the top of the ticket to help, Sen. Clinton at the top of the ticket to help or John Edwards at the top of the ticket to help?"
"Your instincts will tell you the right answer," Edwards says.
ABC's Jake Tapper, writing in his blog Political Punch, believes Edwards has been skating close to the edge lately.
Tapper quotes passages in which Edwards claims he can make "more of a connection" than Obama or Hillary with "middle-of-the-road voters."
"Just picture in your head each of us," Edwards says.
Tapper writes: "For weeks, I've rejected the notion that Edwards is making this appeal on anything other than cultural values, his Southern twang and roots ... but that 'picture in your head' clause is interesting."
Even more interesting is the fact that Edwards is not really more "middle of the road" politically than Obama or Clinton. So is Edwards subtly saying he is able to make "more of a connection" to middle-of-the-road voters because he is white and a man instead of black or a woman?
Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times quotes Garnet Coleman, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, who is black and an Edwards supporter, saying of Edwards: "He has to be diplomatic. He doesn't want to make it seem like he believes that an African-American or a woman couldn't govern the country. It'd be real easy for someone to come out and say he's being insensitive to women and African-Americans."
The question is not, however, whether Edwards is implying that a woman or an African-American can't govern. He is not. The question is whether he is implying that he would have an easier time getting elected than an African-American or a woman.
If Obama can go around the country claiming that black voters will turn out for him in great numbers because he is black, why can't John Edwards claim that white voters will turn out for him in great numbers because he is white?
If Hillary Clinton can say she will attract the votes of women who want to prove that a woman can become president, why can't Edwards say he will attract the votes of men who want a man for president?
Because you're not supposed to, that's why.
Actually, I don't think Edwards' problem is that he is constrained in what he can say in his campaign speeches. I think he has a bigger problem.
In the 2004 primaries, Edwards promised that he could win Southern states because he was a Southerner who understood Southern voters. It was not a far-fetched claim. In 1992, Southerner Bill Clinton won Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee. In 1996, Clinton won Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida.
John Kerry put Edwards on the Democratic ticket in 2004 in large part because of Edwards' presumed Southern appeal. But the Democratic ticket didn't win a single Southern state in 2004. True, Edwards was not at the top of the ticket, but he sure didn't help much.
Now, once again, Edwards is claiming he will make great inroads among Southern and rural voters. His strategist, David "Mudcat" Saunders, says Edwards is aiming at the "heart and soul of rural America."
"We're going to get some white males," Saunders told Joe Hagan of Men's Vogue.
Could be. But John Edwards' real problem is that he wants to project a down-home, rural, good-old-boy image, while people instead see him as a super-rich lawyer, living in a huge mansion and getting expensive haircuts.
Being born in rural America doesn't guarantee that you can win in rural America. As Jesse Jackson once said, "My cat had her kittens in the oven, but that didn't make them biscuits."