RALEIGH–Not only was he supposed to bring along his own state, but North Carolina Senator John Edwards was expected to deliver other southern electoral votes for the Democratic presidential ticket.
He failed miserably, and wasn’t close to a difference-maker in any state.
Which, contrary to several opinions expressed earlier in the campaign, shows that Edwards can’t be considered a serious candidate for the presidency in 2008. He believed, along with many others, that even though Kerry might lose this year, his high profile on the ticket would boost his chances four years from now. Turns out that idea was a much larger gamble than he could have imagined.
North Carolina’s results prove how far Edwards’s star, if it ever did twinkle with his constituents since he was elected in 1998, has fallen. In a state where this year voters returned to office a reclusive Democratic governor, Mike Easley, and once again made both chambers of its legislature Democratic, Edwards could only help John Kerry muster 43 percent of the popular vote. Most other statewide offices went Democratic also.
Erskine Bowles, who blew a big lead in the polls to Republican Richard Burr in the race for Edwards’s former Senate seat, recognized what the national Democratic party and mainstream media did not: that Edwards was a loser. Bowles, with significant financial resources, campaigned as an independent who would work with both parties, but avoided almost every Kerry/Edwards visit to the state. That didn’t help him anyway, giving Burr the only other bright spot for North Carolina Republicans. Edwards’s unimpressive Senate record gave Bowles nothing to build on either.
Perhaps Kerry could have deployed Edwards more effectively, but I doubt it. Contrary to media reports Edwards stumped almost non-stop, but he did not bring along one single state that Kerry couldn’t have won without him. He did nothing on the campaign trail to distinguish himself and attract voters. With the Democratic successes statewide in North Carolina, Edwards had no excuse for Kerry’s poor showing there.
Their failures in the south likely mean that national Democrats will kick themselves in the coming days for putting Edwards on the ticket. How could they have so overestimated his popularity? How could they have ignored his obvious problems, which were not hidden, in his home state? How could they have been so deluded? Strategists don’t have as much say about their presidential candidate as primary voters do, but they can exert a lot of pressure on the vice presidential choice. This was a big boo-boo.
Which portends well for Hillary Rodham Clinton as a presidential candidate in 2008. Not only did Kerry fail this year, but Edwards, who many considered her best potential primary challenger four years from now, has sunk. Her path is clearer now than even she probably could have hoped.
–Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal, a publication of the John Locke Foundation.