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Graded On a Curve?
John Edwards doesn't measure up to John Kerry's own veep standards.


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Michael Graham

When John Kerry sent out his search committee to develop a list of vice-presidential candidates, he gave them five criteria for a potential running mate. According to the Washington Post, Kerry wanted “someone with a distinguished record of leadership, someone committed to Kerry’s core agenda, someone with the ability to campaign in all parts of the country, someone compatible with Kerry ‘on every level’ and someone immediately ready to assume the presidency at any moment.”

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The search committee apparently came back with Sen. John Edwards, which means either they didn’t understand the criteria, or John Kerry graded Edwards on a curve. Because under Kerry’s stated guidelines, Edwards is a weak candidate at best. Consider each one:

“Someone with a distinguished record of leadership.” John Edwards has many fine qualities, but a “record of leadership”–indeed, a record of any kind–is not one of them. He’s a one-term senator with no previous political experience, no previous executive experience and not even any significant management experience. As a senator, Edwards’s legislative accomplishments are nonexistent. His greatest impact on public policy was as a trial lawyer, helping drive malpractice insurance in North Carolina so high that some OB-GYNs have fled the state. Making it harder for pregnant moms to find a doctor is hardly Johnson-esque.

GRADE: D+

“Someone committed to Kerry’s core agenda.” John Edwards aces this test. Last year, the National Journal ranked Kerry and Edwards the first and fourth (respectively) most liberal members of the U.S. Senate. Kerry has shifted slightly to the right since launching his presidential bid and Edwards started drifting left when he abandoned any hope of running for reelection. The result is that, other than a few issues like free trade (Kerry for, Edwards against) and the death penalty (reverse that), they’re in near perfect harmony.

GRADE: A-

“Someone with the ability to campaign in all parts of the country.” /b> This class is still in session. The only state Edwards carried when it mattered was South Carolina, where he was born. He lost handily to Kerry in the west, east, north, and the rest of the south, including Tennessee and Virginia, both bordering North Carolina. However, while Edwards lost, he still polled relatively well in places like Wisconsin and Iowa. He did well in rural areas in many states, and it’s the Kerry campaign’s hope that these voters will respond more warmly to good ol’ boy Edwards than to prep-school stiff John Kerry. Still, it’s hard to predict how Edwards’s thick southern accent and down-home style will translate in, say, California, or in urban areas around the Great Lakes.

GRADE: Incomplete.

“Someone compatible with Kerry ‘on every level.’” Edwards earns high marks here. Instead of throwing Howard Dean-style firebombs, Edwards was smart enough to stay positive throughout the primary season. He built bridges between himself and Kerry, he didn’t burn them. Because he played nice, there aren’t any nasty and embarrassing comments about his new political bedfellow that have to be explained away. It looks like the pundits who said Edwards was campaigning for the vice presidency all along were right.

GRADE: A+

“Someone immediately ready to assume the presidency at any moment.” Ouch. Not even the most ardent Edwards supporter believes he’s ready to assume the presidency at this or any other moment. Contrary to the comparisons yesterday, Edwards’s resume makes Dan Quayle look like Adlai Stevenson, and in 1988 we weren’t facing the greatest foreign-policy challenge in a generation. Edwards doesn’t have the experience, expertise, or demonstrated character to lead the Unites State in wartime. And nobody believes he does. Edwards utterly fails this test, which is the most important test of all.

GRADE: F.

So why is John Edwards on the ticket? Because he polls well among suburban women and rural white voters, is my guess. Dewey W. Wells, a former state court judge in North Carolina who litigated against Mr. Edwards as a defense lawyer, says Edwards “has an ingratiating way, particularly with…women on juries.”

Kerry didn’t include these in his five criteria, but even if he had, Edwards would be a weak choice for veep, even by Kerry’s own standards.

FINAL GRADE: A (southern) gentleman’s C.

Radio-talk host Michael Graham is an NRO contributor.



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