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Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2004 / 20 Shevat, 5764

Roger Simon

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Southern (un)comfotrable | As that political sage Jesse Jackson once said, "My cat had her kittens in the oven, but that didn't make them biscuits."

Which may be why Wesley Clark of Arkansas and John Edwards of North Carolina didn't do better in the South this year.

Both men were born in the South, but were they really of the South?

Clark certainly didn't seem to be. After years of traveling from Army base to Army base, he has lost any kind of regional identification.

And even though Edwards often speaks with an accent thick enough to pour over grits, you don't think "Down Home Guy" when you think of him. You think: "Super Lawyer."

Which is not to say Edwards is a bad campaigner. He isn't. And his most successful campaign has been with the media: He actually has gotten the media to like him.

Consider: Edwards and Clark each have won one contest out of 14. But who got drummed out of the race? Clark, not Edwards.

Consider: Edwards and Clark each made one critical tactical mistake. Clark did not campaign in Iowa, where he might have done well and Edwards barely campaigned in Oklahoma, which he might have won had he spent more time there.

Polls showed Edwards way ahead in South Carolina, which voted the same day, and slightly behind in Oklahoma. Had Edwards made the bold move and gone to Oklahoma, he could have really set himself up as the alternative to John Kerry with two wins on the same day. But Edwards played it safe and won only South Carolina.

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Today, however, Clark is considered a loser who ran a lousy campaign while Edwards' only major sin, as far as most media see it, is that he is not willing to attack Kerry because he wants to be Kerry's vice president.

Howard Dean has won not a single primary, but he still gets a certain amount of status, because we all thought he was going to win this thing. After all, he raised the most money, he used the Internet in a revolutionary way, he got big-deal endorsements, and he spent a ton on TV commercials.

Which means in 2008 the media are going to be extremely wary of all four of these indicators.

Take the last one: Many candidates believe the more they spend on advertising, the better they will do. (That's what their media consultants tell them, anyway.)

But Clark spent more money on TV ads than anybody else in Arizona, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. He lost them all. Overall, Clark spent $10 million on ads, more than anybody. Dean was second with $9.7 million and Kerry was third with $7.2 million.

(So maybe the trick is to be the third highest-spending campaign when it comes to ads.)

But for all Clark's advantages — money, a supposed base among Southern voters and veterans, some big-name endorsements and an experienced staff — Clark could never get over his true problem: He never learned how to campaign for president. He never could come up with a compelling reason for his presidency or even for why was even running (except for personal ambition.)

He now bows out, leaving Edwards and Dean to slog on in the hopes that Kerry will be derailed by scandal or a mistake. (Which is the weakest strategy one can have.) Each is convinced that if he can only get head-to-head with Kerry, he will beat him.

But what is the evidence for this? Not their performances so far.

Many believe Edwards is hanging on because he wants to be Kerry's running mate and a good showing in the primaries will demonstrate his vote-getting ability with Southern whites and African-Americans. But exit polls in Tennessee and Virginia this week showed the opposite: Kerry beat Edwards among both groups.

This doesn't exactly argue for Edwards being a strong running mate. Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of The Hotline, is correct when he argues Edwards would be a bad choice. "Edwards doesn't help in the South," Todd writes. "Could Edwards carry North Carolina as the No. 1 on the ticket? Probably. But as the No. 2, Edwards most likely helps Kerry by a couple of points at best. Gore lost North Carolina by 13 points, so Edwards as the vice presidential candidate maybe cuts that margin to single digits."

Yet Edwards is hailed as the great "find" of this election cycle and people are already talking about his chances in 2008, while Wesley Clark became the fifth candidate to drop out. Can you name the others? Wait, I've got a tougher one: Can you name the five that are still in?

I am not one of those, however, urging everybody to get out and leave Kerry with a clear field. I say let them stay in and burn up other people's money.

It sure beats working for a living.

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