Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Edwards Strives to Stay In the Public Eye

Edwards Strives to Stay
In the Public Eye
Out of Office, Former Vice-Presidential Candidate
Tries to Make the Most of His Freedom

April 14, 2005; Page A4

By John Edwards's standards, it has been a good week.

On Sunday night, the Democrats' 2004 vice-presidential candidate drew a raucous response -- and an honorarium -- from students at American University in Washington for a speech on eradicating poverty. On Monday morning, New York magazine published an interview in which Mr. Edwards described Republican lawmakers' actions in the Terri Schiavo case as "disgusting." By midafternoon, his remarks had drawn a response from conservative pundit Robert Novak on CNN's "Inside Politics." And that was just the start.

It can be tough for out-of-office politicians to get positive attention -- especially if their next election is three years away. But the former North Carolina senator is working hard at trying to convert the loss of his public platform into an opportunity for broken-field running that may yet take him to the White House in 2008.

"I have the freedom to do more good about the things I care about," says Mr. Edwards, in shirt sleeves for a midmorning interview at his home in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood. "The campaign I have now is to do something about poverty in America, [and] we'll just see where that leads."

A Man on the Move: With an eye on 2008–but no platform in public office–John Edwards crosses the country to remain in the spotlight. Feb. 5 (top): Mr. Edwards at a Democratic fund-raiser in Manchester, N.H. March 11 (bottom): Mr. Edwards being interviewed by ESPN during an ACC tournament basketball game in Washington D.C.

Just three months into President Bush's second term, all his potential successors are having trouble holding the spotlight. With his ambitious "freedom agenda" abroad and Social Security plan at home, Mr. Bush remains fixed at center stage.

Yet it is harder for Mr. Edwards than some past and future rivals. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana has a Senate platform for battling the White House, such as blocking the new trade representative's confirmation until the Senate acts on his "Stopping Overseas Subsidies" bill. As a lawmaker, Mr. Bayh can court "values" voters in key states, for example, by championing ethanol alongside an Indy Racing League driver, and can tout his 2008 viability -- by announcing that two-thirds of Indianians "believe Hoosier Sen. Evan Bayh has the personal qualities needed to be a good president."

Howard Dean holds a megaphone as Democratic National Committee chairman. New Mexico governor and former cabinet secretary Bill Richardson returned to the capital last month to tell jokes at the media's Gridiron Club. Early front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York makes headlines with every step to moderate a national image shaped over eight years as first lady.

"You're going to get more appearances on 'Meet the Press' if you're a sitting U.S. senator than if you're not," says Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles-based veteran of presidential politics. Such appearances in turn can generate cash since they are watched by campaign donors.

But there are advantages to not holding a public job. Mr. Edwards doesn't have to act on issues like the Schiavo case; aiding the effort to re-insert Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube through legislative action may backfire on Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, a Republican 2008 contender. He is also free to set his own policy agenda and to travel -- and has visited 15 states so far this year aside from North Carolina.

Mr. Edwards heads the new Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The wealthy former trial lawyer and his wife, Elizabeth, will sell their Washington house and move near Chapel Hill once she completes treatment for breast cancer in a few weeks. The post provides a $40,000 salary and an opportunity to explore an issue that was a cornerstone of his 2004 message, and remains important to liberal Democratic voters. Earlier this year, on the weekend the new center was announced, he flew to New Hampshire -- the first primary state -- to deliver a speech.

His new role isn't above controversy. North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Ferrell Blount, repeating publicly a complaint some rival Democrats make privately, calls the taxpayer-supported center "a political operation fabricated out of whole cloth to promote" the former senator's ambition. The university calls it "a nonpartisan initiative ... to examine innovative and practical ideas for moving more Americans out of poverty."

Mr. Edwards also is seeking a platform with a foreign-policy think tank to fatten his international résumé. Next month he plans to visit the United Kingdom and Dubai before heading to India in the fall.

It is "very important for him to make some foreign trips," says Republican strategist Charlie Black, who advised the 1980 presidential bid of another out-of-office politician -- Ronald Reagan.

But Mr. Reagan's two terms as California governor built a firmer national foundation than Mr. Edwards's six-year stint in the Senate. And the Gipper's late rally in 1976 Republican primaries against President Ford may have provided more momentum for future campaigns than Mr. Edwards's vice-presidential candidacy, which some Democratic insiders judge as lackluster.

"Most candidates are elevated and enlarged by being the vice-presidential nominee, but that didn't happen to John Edwards," says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. Some media attention Mr. Edwards has drawn since November centers on backstage recriminations about strategy between his camp and that of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presidential nominee.

Edwards advisers say he helped the ticket improve its performance in small towns and rural areas last November. In fact, Bush campaign polling data suggest Mr. Edwards's stumping helped the Democratic ticket more than Mr. Kerry's did. Daron Shaw, a University of Texas political scientist close to the Bush team, has calculated that the average Edwards appearance reduced Mr. Bush's poll standing by .389% in affected media markets, more than double the .169% average dent from Kerry visits.

With results like that, the 51-year-old once named America's "sexiest politician" by People magazine, may be gaining from his varied stratagems for staying visible. As the North Carolina Tar Heels drove toward the NCAA championship, Mr. Edwards appeared on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" to talk basketball. Through his "OneAmerica" political action committee, he sends out "podcast" commentaries. Monday night, he appeared in Washington at a dinner for the Fragile X Research Foundation, which seeks to cure a birth defect causing autism. Yesterday, he discussed poverty at Harvard; today, tax reform at the New School University in New York.

The speeches -- some free of charge, others for fees Edwards aides won't disclose -- are more sedate than campaign events. He took the stage at American University's Bender Arena without blaring rock music, and his prepared remarks didn't mention Mr. Bush.

Yet a sense of purpose was evident when he answered questions, some from students who had helped with his 2004 campaign. When one implored Mr. Edwards to seek the presidency again, he paused, smiled, and responded, "Thank you.",,SB111344157134206670,00.html


Blogger dumpster_baby said...

The WSJ is always ready to give a good DLC man like Edwards some favorable publicity, I see.

By their friends shall ye know them.....

4:27 AM  
Blogger Ron Chusid said...

I wouldn't read too much into this story. Unlike Fox New, for example, which is 100% utillized to push the conservative agenda, the Wall Street Journal does separate the news and editorial departments.

The editorial department iis as far right as they come, but the news is much more objective. After all, investors and others reading want real news, not ideology, and WSJ will lose its clout if hte news section is too biased.

Being a business-oriented newspaper there is some inherent bias, but (assuming it isn't someone's sole source of information) the Wall Street Journal is a useful source for information.

6:15 AM  

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