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A presidential campaign based in Chapel Hill

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, December 6, 2004

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Last week newspapers featured stories of John Edwards traveling across North Carolina to tell his U.S. Senate constituents goodbye.

People are asking if Edwards will run for President in 2008.

Edwards's journey prompted many North Carolinians to wonder again about the senator's plans for the future. Folks in Chapel Hill learned at least part of the answer. Work is progressing on a large track of land that Elizabeth and John Edwards bought near Chapel Hill. Edwards confirmed that he plans to move his family to a new home they will build on this property.

UNC Law School Dean Gene Nichol acknowledged that he is already trying to persuade Senator Edwards to teach classes at the law school. (And when the dean catches his breath, he will remember that Elizabeth Edwards, who was one of the state's best commercial and bankruptcy lawyers, might be a better catch for his faculty.)

Of course, most speculation around the state was not on where the Edwards would live or whether or not they would become law school faculty. People are asking if Edwards will run for President in 2008. If so, how is he going to mount a presidential campaign without the high visibility his U.S. Senate seat gave him?

The answer to the first question is easy. John Edwards is already running for President. He has been running for years. His recent vice-presidential campaign was, as everybody knows, not an end in itself. It was a part of Edwards's ultimate goal-the Presidency.

But how can Edwards run a presidential campaign without the visibility of holding high public office? And doesn't he know about the abysmal track record of defeated vice presidential candidates who later run for President. If fact, who can remember their names?

Go down the list of recent defeated vice presidential candidates who later tried to win their party's presidential nomination:

*Joe Lieberman (Democrat in 2000) ran in 2004 but dropped out early in the primary season.

*Dan Quayle (Republican incumbent running for reelection in 1992) never got his presidential campaign off the ground in 1996.

*Fritz Mondale (Democratic incumbent running for reelection in 1980) won his party's nomination in 1984 but lost the general election.

*Bob Dole (Republican in 1976) won the nomination in 1996 but lost in the general election.

To find a defeated vice presidential nominee who later won a presidential election, you have to go all the way back to 1920 when Franklin Roosevelt was on the Democrats' losing ticket.

However, all these things are just history, and John Edwards seems more bent on making history than by being limited by its lessons. Also, Edwards's enthusiasts say that his recent vice presidential campaign has done for him what John Kennedy's 1956 losing effort to get the Democratic nomination did for Kennedy-establish in the public's mind an image of a young, attractive, and tireless advocate for a better and stronger America.

Okay, perhaps Edwards's losing effort as vice presidential candidate will not make his quest for the presidency impossible. But, without the platform of a U.S. Senate or other public office, how does he mount a campaign from his soon to be new Chapel Hill home?

If we look at history again, we can find several models for successful presidential campaigns run by "non-office holders." Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were only former governors when they became winning presidential candidates. Richard Nixon was practicing law, having lost a campaign for governor of California.

These three used their freedom from the duties of office to travel across the country building contacts and experiences that supported their presidential plans.

Watch for Edwards to follow the Carter-Reagan-Nixon example.

In developing his "non-office holder" campaign for the presidency, Edwards has the benefit of the experience of Raleigh lawyer Ed Turlington, one of his top advisors. During the late 1990's Turlington worked for former Senator Bill Bradley. Bradley had left the senate at the end of 1996 to begin preparations for a presidential campaign. During this time he wrote books and articles, taught and studied at universities, spoke on public issues, and traveled across the country making fundraising and political contacts.

Although Bradley lost the Democratic nomination to Al Gore, he and Ed Turlington mounted a presidential effort that was very effective-much more so than it would have been had Bradley remained in the confines of the U.S. Senate.

With Turlington showing the way during the next several years, look for Edwards to be an active writer, traveler, speaker, fundraiser, and, yes, maybe even a teacher in one of Gene Nichol's law school classrooms in Chapel Hill.


D.G. Martin is the author of "Interstate Eateries" a handbook of home cooking places near North Carolina's interstate highways-available through Our State Magazine (800-948-1409 or He is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Bookwatch is taking a break during UNC-TV's Winterfest special programming. It returns December 19, when Sharyn McCrumb author of Ghost Riders will be the guest.

Programs coming up:

December 19: Sharyn McCrumb, Ghost Riders

December 26: Clyde Edgerton, Lunch at the Piccadilly

January 2: Jim Early, Tar Heel Barbecue

January 9: Lynn York, The Piano Teacher

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