In an unforeseen consequence of presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry's pick of John Edwards as his vice presidential candidate, Edwards is now leading Kerry by 20 points among Democrats who think there's still a choice to be made regarding who's at the top of the ticket.
One Kerry campaign insider was confident the confusion would work to their advantage. "The one thing this campaign needed was a little excitement and John Edwards is it. It's got to be better than before Edwards when all the excitement was being inexorably sucked down into this big Kerryesque black hole of anti-excitement. It was this kind of endless, mind-numbing, soul-destroying tsunami of ennui and hopelessness that...Uh, maybe I've said too much."
The energy that Edwards brings to the Kerry campaign couldn't come at a better time. Polling indicates Kerry is so unlikeable and off-putting that he only holds his own against President Bush when voters know nothing about the Massachusetts senator. As a result, the past few months have seen an aggressive effort by Kerry to avoid the spotlight by not doing or saying anything notable. The payoff has been huge. A majority of voters now believe John Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president back in 1988. Kerry campaign T-shirts, produced just recently but described as "antique," "classic," and "vintage," are fetching top dollar on Ebay.
A possible next step is to have the candidate totally disappear from public view by voluntarily entering the Federal Witness Protection Program. And a new campaign bumper sticker is designed to help Kerry maintain deep cover.
"The bumper sticker will start with John Edwards' name at the top and then work its way down through the names of some popular celebrities that, unlike Kerry, people feel good about. American Idol crooner Clay Aiken will definitely make the cut," a campaign source tells this reporter. "Finally, we plan on putting John Kerry's name in the bottom left corner of the sticker in six-point type. Maybe even use one of those really hard-to-read, squiggly fonts. It's all about lowering our visibility and boosting the candidate's name non-recognition at this point."
The next few days will be the critical test for John Edwards as the team that campaign personnel have dubbed "The Drone and the Drawl" hits the road. The potential pitfalls are many. Friction remains between Edwards and Teresa Heinz Kerry who, during the V.P. selection process, was under the mistaken impression that her husband was screening potential summer caretakers for her Sun Valley, Idaho estate. Even now, reports say she has a tendency to reflexively remind Edwards that the African violets in the solarium need to be misted twice a day.
To bring the North Carolina senator in line with his new running mate's personal style, the candidate has promised to flip-flop more slowly in the next few weeks. "He's determined to bring Edwards up to speed but it'll be at Edwards' own pace," says an insider. "Kerry's going to give it at least a week before he starts to 'nuance' his 'life begins at conception' position. The week after that, he'll start backpedaling slowly, just to see if Edwards can keep up. At week three, the backpedaling will be full out and we're confident Edwards by then will be able to match Kerry's best waffling speed without getting winded."
It's not the only grueling test for the potential vice president. Motorcades and rallies present another problem in the form of the constant police cruiser escorts. The former trial lawyer's inner circle has assured the Kerry camp that Edwards is unlikely to mistake the flashing lights for that of an ambulance and begin chasing them.
John Edwards' background as a personal injury attorney may turn out to be both a curse and a blessing for the campaign. Take his request, as "a new member of the team," for unfettered access to the Kerry/Heinz personal and business records. This may be connected to some prepared remarks Edwards plans to deliver this weekend. In the speech, he promises to lead the legal battle against the "powerful forces" who are behind what he calls "the devastating tragedy of K.S.S. or 'ketchup sensitivity syndrome.'" A reference to "repetitive squeeze-bottle stress disorder" in the speech has also caused some nervousness among Kerry insiders.
Still, having such a celebrated litigator on board may yet prove advantageous for John Kerry. This was evidenced by the stray question a reporter's microphone picked up after Wednesday's first joint appearance of the running mates, when Edwards asked Kerry, "So where's this prenuptial agreement you want me to take a look at?"