The Edwards Surge
Published on Thursday, February 19, 2004 by the Progressive
The Edwards Surge
by Matthew Rothschild

Hey, we've got a race on our hands, albeit between two candidates who voted for the Iraq War, the USA Patriot Act, the Bush tax cuts, and No Child Left Behind.

The remarkable finish by John Edwards in Wisconsin should foreclose any premature conclusion about who the nominee of the Democratic Party will be.

Edwards gained 14 percentage points in the last four days, and Kerry dropped seven points, with Edwards picking up huge numbers of independents and three out of every four votes of those who made up their minds at the end.

He did so because of three distinctions he drew with Kerry.

The first was personality. Edwards is sunny, where Kerry is dour. Edwards is a natural politician who can talk the shingles off the roof, where Kerry is wooden and tedious and entitled, reminding many voters of the ghost of Al Gore. And every time Kerry said "Bring It On" he dropped 1 percentage point in the polls, according to my very unscientific survey.

Kerry also goofed on election night by accusing Edwards of "cherry-picking" which states to campaign in. Whining is generally not a good election strategy.

The second distinction was on an important issue: NAFTA. Kerry voted for it; Edwards, who wasn't in office then, says he opposes it. The issue of the year is jobs, and NAFTA is an acronym for the hardships that working people have suffered under Bush and globalization. (Why the AFL is thinking about endorsing Kerry now is a real question.) By playing up NAFTA, Edwards has made himself into the candidate of the working man and the working woman.

Which fits perfectly with his third distinction, which is his personal story, his class background. Edwards never tires of telling (though I tire of hearing) about his father the mill worker. Edwards came from nothing, whereas Kerry is a Brahmin and a Yalie, and he acts the part.

Edwards's surge at the end, especially with independents, undercuts one of Kerry's central appeals: electability. For if Edwards is the candidate who can best reach across party lines, maybe he's the best candidate who can beat Bush.

Some of the lemmings in the Anybody But Bush camp may start to scurry over to Edwards. If they do so, Kerry is in real trouble.

Wisconsin was at least a hiccup for Kerry, if not the beginning of whooping cough.

Copyright 2004 The Progressive