Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has chosen North Carolina senator John Edwards for his running mate. The announcement comes after months of media speculation, making the long-awaited decision something of an anticlimax. Pundits and political mavens had put forth a number of possibilities for the veep slot, including popular screamer Howard Dean, union favorite Dick Gephardt, General Wesley Clark, and even maverick Republican John McCain. But Kerry chose Edwards, the man who finished second to him in the Democratic primaries. The obvious question: Why?
Kerry has been branded by the Republicans as an Ivy League liberal, a wonkish policy geek, and a member of the ruling class. Edwards, a trial lawyer known for defending the disenfranchised, comes from a solidly working-class background. He attended public schools. He's young and energetic, with school-aged children, and in 1998 People magazine voted him "the sexiest politician in America." Most important, Edwards, who gained a lot of traction with his "two Americas" rhetoric during the Democratic primaries, is good on the stump. He's personable and charismatic in a way that can only be described as Clintonian. In many ways, he is everything Washington-insider Kerry is not. In 2001, Republican senator John McCain told The Charlotte Observer, "[Edwards has] got the ambition, the talent, and the brains to go very far, to be president of the United States."
But there is a downside too, and a steep one at that. Though Edwards will certainly mitigate Kerry's patrician image, he didn't perform particularly well in the South during the primaries, winning only his home state. It's unclear whether his presence on the ticket will bolster Kerry's support below the Mason-Dixon line. Edwards will also be bludgeoned by the Republicans for his record as a "trial lawyer," a term that conservatives equate to "evil-doer." And while both Kerry and Edwards have become outspoken critics of the war in Iraq, both initially voted in favor of the resolution that gave President Bush the power to invade.
Still, when Edwards speaks, it is of the "haves and the have nots," not the "haves and the have mores." With the ever-bulging deficit and an economic "recovery" that has yet to touch most working-class Americans, that theme could become a potent weapon in the coming campaign.