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Jewish World Review June 22, 2004 / 3 Tamuz, 5764

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Ready from Day One | If presidential nominees really did what they claim to do when picking a running mate, the task would be much easier.

Every presidential nominee says the same thing: The chief criterion for picking a vice president is "whether he or she is ready from Day One to become president of the United States."

Because that is the only real duty (aside from occasionally breaking ties in the Senate) that a vice president has, you'd think it would far overshadow any other consideration in the selection process.

And if it actually did, then it would be fairly easy for John Kerry to pick from his alleged short list of finalists: John Edwards of North Carolina, Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and John Vilsack of Iowa. (There may be other names, of course, and surprises are always possible.)

Is there one name that leaps from that list in terms of being ready to be president from Day One?

Would it be John Edwards in his first term as a U.S. Senator from North Carolina, having previously been a personal injury lawyer?

Would it be Tom Vilsack, in his second term as governor of Iowa, having previously been an Iowa state senator and the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa?

Or would it be Dick Gephardt, in his 14th term as a U.S. Representative from Missouri?

Did you pick Edwards? If you did, you are probably a member of the media, who have been swooning over Edwards ever since he began campaigning for president last year.

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By the end of his campaign, Edwards had won exactly one primary, his birth state of South Carolina. Edwards kept telling voters he could carry the South in the fall, but he was savvy enough to drop out the week before primaries in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. If Edwards had entered those primaries and lost, his southern support would have been exposed as mythical, which might have made it hard for him to run again.

Edwards proved himself to be a spirited and eloquent campaigner — his "Two Americas" theme was one of the best the pack presented — and he finished second in the Iowa caucuses behind John Kerry.

Edwards's supporters believe his second-place finish never got the attention it deserved (it was overshadowed by the virtual collapse of the Howard Dean campaign) and they have gone around with huge chips on their shoulders ever since.

They have a sense of entitlement: John Edwards is entitled to be vice president because…well, because he is that's all. He is handsome and articulate and exciting and Kerry better pick him if Kerry knows what's good for him.

Never mind that Edwards and Kerry are not thought to be very close and never mind that Kerry looks at his own career — nineteen years in the U.S. Senate preceded by being a lieutenant governor preceded by being a prosecutor — and compares it to Edwards's single term in office and finds, perhaps, Edwards a bit wanting in the experience department.

The Edwards forces have mounted a very vigorous campaign for his vice presidential selection. And so we see stories about how Edwards will not just carry states in the South (though they are rarely named) but also rural areas of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri. And we see stories about how trial lawyers will give huge amounts of dough to the Democrats if their fellow trial-lawyer Edwards is put on the ticket.

The campaign has been so vigorous in fact, that it has virtually painted Kerry into a corner, a place no nominee likes to be. I can guarantee you that if Kerry picks someone other than Edwards, the second question (if not the first) asked of Kerry at the announcement will be: "Why didn't you pick John Edwards?"

John Edwards almost certainly has a brilliant career ahead of him in national politics. I can easily see him battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination some day.

But is John Edwards ready to be president today? Over Dick Gephardt?

Can John Kerry really sell that one? With a straight face?

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