by Jeff Fleischer(Mother Jones, October 5, 2004)
In his sole debate against Dick Cheney on Tuesday in Ohio, John Edwards is charged with keeping the momentum the Democratic ticket gained from last week’s presidential debate. But equally important for Democrats, the debate will be Edwards’ most high-profile appearance since his convention acceptance speech more than two months ago.
Edwards’ relative lack of national coverage has led to several “where’s John?” stories in the press. On Sunday, his home-state Winston-Salem Journal got into the act, quoting Democrats who feel Edwards isn’t making enough headlines:
“Do we want to see more of him? Yes, absolutely. I am not on the campaign. I don’t know the answer to why we are not seeing him more.” (New Hampshire state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro)
“I try not to second-guess the campaign, but those of us (who have worked with and known Edwards for a long time) feel like he can be more aggressively used. We have made that case.” (U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.)
But the campaign has been deploying Edwards in swing states. In the past two weeks, for example, he has been on the stump in battlegrounds like West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey. As Newsday reports, Edwards has visited more than 100 cities since becoming the vice-presidential nominee, spending most of his time in small towns, rural areas and working-class where Democrats feel Edwards can connect with voters more easily than John Kerry. As Democratic consultant John Anzelone told the Journal:
“The bottom line is, if John Edwards goes to Appalachia, Ohio, and articulates our message, I find it hard to believe we lose. He does a better job of articulating the Democratic message than the nominee does.”
While some armchair analysts complain about Edwards not playing more of an “attack dog” role, his stump speeches have actually been quite critical of the administration and its track record. Edwards hasn’t done anything as overt as Cheney’s “we’ll get hit again” remarks, but as he told CNBC last week, he is making the case against Bush:
“I’m out there every day holding this administration accountable for what they’ve done to this country, and I take it very personally. You know, five million people have lost their health care, four million people have fallen into poverty. Over a million and a half private sector jobs lost, people’s income is down. … That is the direct result of the choices made by George Bush and Dick Cheney. Devastating to the kind of people I grew up with in the small towns in North Carolina. Devastating to most of America. And I am going to make certain that the country knows that George Bush and Dick Cheney are responsible for what’s happened to them here at home. They are responsible.”
On Saturday, while taking time for debate preparation, he was still out there giving the Democrats’ weekly response, recapping John Kerry’s debate performance and giving a preview of the arguments he’ll make against Cheney on Tuesday. While Cheney is expected to criticize Edwards for his limited government experience, his votes on the Iraq war and his background as a lawyer, the North Carolina senator is clearly charging Cheney with cronyism at the expense of voters:
“George Bush and Dick Cheney don’t fight to keep your jobs here because they want to help their friends at the top. They are not on your side. Their tax cuts have not helped the middle class. Instead, they’ve helped people like their friends at Halliburton.
“George Bush and Dick Cheney can find more than $7 billion in no bid contracts for Halliburton. And now that Halliburton is under investigation for overcharging American taxpayers by hundreds of millions of dollars, they make sure that their friends at Halliburton still get the $60 million a month-even though government rules said it should be withheld…Halliburton is a symbol of what’s wrong with this administration. It gives special favors for their friends while you struggle just to get by.”
For all the pre-debate discussion of their differing styles (young, positive Edwards with his courtroom manner against experienced, serious insider Cheney), the debate Tuesday is ultimately about making the case for Kerry and Bush. As editor Charles Cook told the Los Angeles Times, “You are likely to see the Bush and Kerry cases articulated better than they would be by the presidential candidates themselves.”