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What should Edwards do now?

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, February 16, 2004

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“What would you do now if you were in John Edwards’ shoes?”

A friend of mine asked me this question a few days ago after another string of primary victories by John Kerry.

Before I could open my mouth, my friend let me know that he had the answer to his own question.

“If I were Edwards, I would get out right now. He has shown the country that he is a good campaigner. He has made a name for himself. But the handwriting is on the wall. Kerry has the nomination wrapped up. Edwards is in a good place right now, with a good shot at the vice-presidential nomination. But he has to show people that he is no fool either. He needs to demonstrate that he ‘knows when to fold them.’ If he keeps on going, his money is going to dry up. He won't be able to compete financially. So he will be without the resources to organize and buy TV time. Kerry will clobber him, and by convention time he will be ‘damaged goods.’”

My friend stopped to take a breath. But before I could jump in, he was off again.

“He just needs to be realistic. And the Democrats need to unite behind a single candidate if they're going give any hope of beating Bush this fall.”

With that, he walked away, grabbed somebody else, asked him the same question, and gave him the same lecture.

Maybe my friend is right. But if I were Edwards, I would hang in there as long as I had enough gas money to travel from one state to another.

I think keeping Edwards in the race is the best thing for him and for the Democratic Party's chances of beating President Bush in the fall election.

From Edwards' standpoint, he is connecting with the public everywhere he goes. He continues to get constant daily favorable press coverage. He shows his strongest asset--a great campaigner--even when he loses. The longer he stays in, the longer the folks will remember him. The longer he stays in the public eye, the more likely it is that he will be able to secure a big-time national position that will give him a platform from which to make a strong bid for public office again someday. The day he leaves the presidential race is the day he will join Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, and Carol Moseley-Braun, and Wesley Clark in the oblivion that belongs to also-rans.

From the Democrats' standpoint, Kerry still needs a strong opponent in the remaining primaries. He still has not had a long enough time in the spotlight to prove that he is strong enough to withstand the Republican onslaught that will face him or another nominee in the fall. Something strange could always happen under the spotlight that falls upon a presumed nominee, that same spotlight brought down Howard Dean. It could show us something about Kerry, his record, his past, his personality, or his wife and family that turns us off.

Even assuming that Kerry withstands the scrutiny that comes to a front runner, a few more weeks of competition with Edwards will make John Kerry an even better candidate. It already has.

With Edwards in the race, Kerry has the imperative to continue hard campaigning in the upcoming primary states, and the national news will continue to cover the competitors. When those contests are over, John Kerry is going have to work hard to get on the national news every evening--at least until the opening of the Democratic National Convention in July.

In summary, the best thing for the Democrats and John Kerry is for John Edwards to hang tough.

And even if it were not the best thing for Democrats and Kerry, I would still bet that John Edwards would stay in the race until it is over.

Edwards does not know when to quit. It is one of his best qualities, and one that makes it very risky for anyone to ever bet against him.

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch, which is taking a break during the special programming for UNC-TV’s “Festival.” It will return to the air in the spring.

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