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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Edwards More Electable Than Kerry?

Poor John Kerry. First, he gets beat up for having so many people think he’s electable. You see, that’s just the “bandwagon effect” or, for those who wish to dress that point up in fancier intellectual clothing, it’s an electoral “bubble”, just like the run-up of the Nasdaq. To put it in the simplest possible terms, the reason people think he’s electable is ’cause other people think he’s electable. Of course, this dynamic is always an important part of any frontrunner’s success, so criticizing Kerry for benefiting from the bandwagon effect didn’t really have a lot of force. Things that are always true are….well, always true.
But, in the aftermath of the Wisconsin primary, the Kerry-doubters have shifted their line of attack to something with a bit more bite: hard evidence (in their view) that Kerry is less electable than the other viable Democratic candidate, John Edwards.
The basic rap couldn’t be simpler and DR pointed out the factoid upon which the rap is based on Tuesday night: Edwards, as he has consistently done, performed much better among declared independents than among Democrats in the Wisconsin primary. And he not only performed better, he actually beat Kerry by a solid 12 points among these voters, 40 percent to 28 percent
Conclusion: since you need to reach independents, not just Democrats–who presumably would support either candidate–to win a general election, Edwards is clearly more electable than Kerry.
To which DR says: maybe. But then again, maybe not. Here are a number of objections which, taken together, suggest the Edwards electability thesis is not quite the irrefutable case that some Kerry-doubters seem to think it is.
1. Edwards may have beaten Kerry among independents in Wisconsin, as well as South Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. But Kerry beat Edwards among independents in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Delaware, Missouri and Virginia.
2. Independents who vote in the Wisconsin Democratic primary are likely to be fairly liberal. Therefore, just as you can argue that Wisconsin Democrats are likely to vote for either Kerry or Edwards, so are these kind of independents, once they are confronted with the choice between Edwards or Kerry and Bush. So Edwards’ advantage over Kerry among Wisconsin independent Democratic primary voters does not necessarily imply a real advantage among the much larger universe of general election independents.
3. When it comes to general election independent voters, Edwards will not have the advantage of little press scrutiny and almost all favorable publicity, like he did in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin primary was a poor test of Edwards’ ability to hold up under the spotlight, since the spotlight was almost all on his opponent.
4. General election independent voters, unlike independents in the Wisconsin primary, are likely to be quite sensitive to the national security issue and the credentials of the Democratic candidate to be commander-in-chief. Kerry has a huge advantage here over Edwards and it baffles DR that some observers are glossing this over. The ability of Kerry to highlight real combat experience and campaign with war veterans adds a great deal to the Democrats’ ability to appear tough enough to defend the nation’s security. Not to mention the implicit comparison with Bush’s cushy, politically-connected, non-combat gig in the National Guard, a comparison which is unflattering for Bush, no mater what happens with the AWOL story. Independents who don’t like Bush, particularly working class independents, are going to be looking for a way to feel safe about voting Democratic in this election. Kerry has a leg up over Edwards in his ability to provide the assurance.
5. Edwards may have done well among independents in Wisconsin, but, judging from the publicly-released exit poll data, it appears to have been mostly among upscale independents. The Democrat in the general election will have to do well among working class independents as well (not to mention keeping working class Democrats in the fold). Kerry actually has a good track record of support from working class, especially traditional blue collar, voters in Massachusetts. As Michael Crowley points out in an excellent article in the new issue of The New Republic, Kerry has repeatedly shown he can connect with those kinds of voters, where his military and combat experience and friendships with veterans loom large, even when other politicians and elites typecast him as aloof and out-of-touch.
6. In the latest CBS News poll, Kerry wins among all voters by 5 points, but among independent voters by 10 points. But isn’t it true that voters don’t like Kerry and don’t cotton to him personally?
In the latest Time/CNN poll, by 68 percent to 28 percent, the public says that “likeable” applies to Bush, which is good….but not quite as good as the 69 percent to 18 percent by which public says that Kerry is likeable.
And look at other characteristics. In the latest Gallup poll, Kerry has a net rating (applies-doesn’t apply) of +33 on being a strong and decisive leader, about the same as Bush’s +32; a net rating of +38 on being honest and trustworthy, far higher than Bush’s +13; a net rating of +20 on shares your values, compared to Bush’s +7; and a net rating of +16 on “generally agrees with you on the issues you care about”, compared to Bush’s -3.
And check out this one: Kerry has a net rating of +57 on “did his duty for the country during Vietnam”, while Bush’s net rating on doing his duty is +2. +57 vs. +2. Wow.
Gallup also finds that 15 percent say Bush’s actions when serving in the Guard make them less likely to vote for him, compared to 4 percent who say it makes them more likely. With Kerry, on the other hand, it’s just the reverse: 19 percent say his combat experience in Vietnam makes them more likely to vote for him, compared to 2 percent say it makes them less likely.
So……Don’t get me wrong, I like John Edwards. And it’s certainly a respectable hypothesis that he is more electable than John Kerry. But, to put it mildly, I don’t think the results of the Wisconsin primary put that hypothesis into the realm of established fact. Indeed, the alternative hypothesis, that Kerry is more electable than Edwards, seems just as plausible, if not more so, once you put those results in a broader context.

53 comments on “Is Edwards More Electable Than Kerry?

  1. BrilliantIdiot on

    Upper Left, there is no way to respond, really. You think Kerry will be “Gored”; I see so far in 2004 that Kerry himself understands how to manage the press better than Gore, and his press team looks superior to me. So far, I like what I see. I never, never felt comfortable with Gore and the press.
    But after 2000, it’s understandable to have that fear about any candidate.

  2. John on

    Hmmm….let’s see.
    When Dean was doing well, all the Tammany Hall Dems were screeching that he would destroy the party by not getting swing voters and independents.
    Now that a Tammany Hall Dem is safely in place, evidence that he can’t get Indys and swings is irrelivant.
    I love hypocracy.

  3. brad on

    We need the best messenger to sell our agenda to the American public. The policy differences between Edwards and Kerry are minimal, if any truly exist.
    Therefore, we need to put our most charismatic, eloquent communicator and salesman on the podium against Bush. That person, of course, is John Edwards!
    In an era when the average American barely has time to sit in traffic/commute to and from work, eat, take care of the home, pay the bills, run necessary errands, sleep, etc., most people (we’re the exception) will not have the opportunity to spend much time getting to know and understand the candidates this fall. IMO, that means we need the quick, eloquent “sound bits” up against Bush. Edwards does it best. An appropriate VP can be put in place to settle any “experience” questions.
    Here’s an article that eludes to this point: http://www.boston.com/news/politics/president/articles/2004/02/22/edwards_pits_charisma_vs_kerry_momentum/

  4. Ally on

    re: Kerry’s nuanced (or rambling) replies;
    Couldn’t this play well against Bush, who believes what he believes regardless of facts, who goes forward with policies regardless of the fact that those policies are so extreme that he can’t even sell their necessity to like-minded nations, etc.?
    Even a Bush supporter in my Poli Sci class was questioning Bush’s grasp of objective reality after watching his performance on “Meet the Press.”
    How can the difference be portrayed appealingly/ Engaged vs disengaged?

  5. Haggai on

    The Kerry-as-waffling-flip-flopper attack is not such an obvious winner for Bush. Yes, there are a few things in his record that Kerry does/will have a tough time explaining, but this can lead into an avenue of attack on which Bush might be very vulnerable: the fact that he sticks to his positions on big issues regardless of circumstances, developments, facts, etc. We’ve already seen how ridiculous one particular Bush campaign attack is, the “Kerry is a hypocrite for railing against the special interests” argument, seeing as how it’s premised on the assumption that “yes, we’re a bunch of bought-and-paid-for whores for big special interests, but at least we don’t pretend that we’re not!” A well-run Kerry campaign will be able to put Bush on the defensive just as much as Bush can force Kerry to play defense.

  6. Jon on

    About upper lefts fears.
    I prefer Edwards, but…
    Here is a possible Kerry defense against the charge that he has two answers to every question.
    “If trying to understand and respect multiple points of view makes me ‘two faced’ in the eyes of my opponant so be it. At least with me, you know that I will NOT ignore the judgment of most Americans in favor of a tiny group of idealogues on the right OR left. Compromise is not always a bad thing”
    Of course he would say it in MANY more words …(sorry, couldn’t resist)
    Anyway the point is that everyone running, Bush, Kerry and Edwards all have weaknesses that will allow their opponant to portrait them badly, as well as strengths that will make Americans take them seriously.
    The way to look at Kerry is that he will be a plausable if unexiting polititian who is ready to jump in and be president if the voters decide that Bush needs to be fired. Its not too late to do better, but we could have done worse. Dean would have caused MANY people to think ‘I want to fire Bush, but I just don’t trust the other guy’.

  7. Judith J. Cole on

    I though Kerry gave a reasoned comment on NAFTA and outsourcing – sending jobs overseas. Sometimes we need more than a Yes – No answer.

  8. Upper left on

    As usual, you and I both agree and disagree.
    Yes, patriotism is very important, particularly with swing voters in the post 9/11 environment. I agree that the Dems need to take back the flag and love of country. That is why I suggested we place our current policy agenda in the context of a long struggle to make our country truly live up to its own founding ideals. That is why I wrote a long post, in the themes thread, suggesting “American Values, American Dreams” as a theme to connect the past to the present and the future. We need a non-jingoistic patriotism that reclaims our best impulses but does not further alienate those on the left who are deeply troubled by the country’s imperialistic foriegn policy.
    Where I disagree with you is on the meaning of Kerry’s Vietnam service. Ruy used the term “threshhold credibility.” Think of the term “threshhold” literally, as in a door threshhold. Now think of Kerry as a door-to-door salesman. His service gets him to the threshhold; it means the voters will open the door and listen to his sales pitch. It does not guarantee the sale. The sale will be made or lost on the voters’ perception of the usefullness of the product or service. In this case, the vote will be won or lost based on the voters’ perception of Kerry’s leadership qualities. Does this guy know what he believes in, and will he stand up for those beliefs? Is he strong and decisive? Does he have good judgement?
    My fear is that Kerry will be “Gored,” portrayed as vacillating and opportunistic. If you think my fears are misplaced, please explain why. Leadership and terrorism are the only things Bush can run on. It is clear that Bush and the entire conservative media structure is going to attack Kerry on these grounds. I have already seen several pundits use the waffling, wishy-washy, hypocrit line of attack. How can Kerry counter these attacks, given his own record of contradictory votes and statements?

  9. Jon on

    Here is what Kerry or Edwards should do about Nader.
    Act as though you take Nader every bit as serously as Bush but don’t let him pull you to the left. Instead hit him hard from the center. Every time you attack Bush for the deficit, attack Nader for wanting to overregulate businesses in such a way that it would cost another 3 million jobs. Every time you attack Bush for mismanaging Iraq, attack Nader for acting as though American force in the world is a bad thing. Its a perfect way to sell yourself as a Moderate running against two extreemists. (Which is what they would be)
    This will give Nader a lot of free publicity could get him back up to 2 or 3% of the vote, but it will also grab about 5% of the liberal republican vote who is disillusioned with Bush but is afraid the the Dems are too liberal.

  10. PhillyGuy on

    Anyone who thinks that Dean supporters are now going to vote for Nader clearly haven’t been paying attention or have been drinking the media “kool aid” about Dean supporters being ultra left wing. Dean supporters were and are, first and foremost, determined to get Bush out of office. They will be supporting the Democratic nominee in November.
    By the way, even if 10% of primary voters stick with Dean him, he won’t receive one more delegate. The threshold is 15%. If you don’t hit 15% in any given primary, you don’t win any delegates from that state. In reality, Dean will have sentimental value at the convention, but a tiny delegation (less than 150) because he’s not going to pick up any more than he already has.

  11. Agincourt2004 on

    One thing you are all overlooking is very important:
    Whoever the nominee is, he will have to win over large numbers of Dean voters. Many of these voters are STILL going to vote for Dean in the primaries – my unscientific estimate (based on various newspaper polls) is that Dean will get at least 10% in CA. Further, in terms of the primaries, not the general election, Kucinich will be the main beneficiary of the Dean voters who do switch.
    Kerry and Edwards are basically the SAME GUY to those of us who watched them adopt Dean’s positions one after another – on the war, NCLB, Patriot Act, Universal Healthcare – etc etc etc.
    If you are trying to build a “New Democratic Majority” you need to acknowledge Kerry’s and Edwards’ debts to Howard Dean and court his voters. I very much want to vote against GBII but I am disgusted with the DLC, McCauliffe in particular, for attempting to stifle genuine debate and for actively working to dump legitimate candidates early in the primary season.

  12. BrilliantIdiot on

    Those who think Kerry’s veteran status is a talisman misunderstand its usefulness, and its implications for Kerry’s alleged strength on foreign policy.
    It’s that Being a war hero (and unlike Dole, Kerry seems physically strong and much younger) removes patriotism from the table, which should help with key demographics – blue collar and rural non union men – that have been a weak point.
    It’s about the values implicit in having served, especially patriotism. It’s about semi-symbolic factors like strength and courage — remember, for decades Democrats were successfully portrayed as weak, unpatriotic, insufficiently circumpsect about the communist threat, and even ideologically sympathetic to communism.
    Well, you can now substitute Terrorism for the big C, and see how a patriotic war hero blunts many possible avenues of definition.
    So the criticism about Kerry’s intellectual judgement concering the Iraq vote is misguided. That’s too convoluted and cerebral to be effective, anyway. The public won’t parse the details of Biden Lugar, and assertions that Kerry is weak or stupid because he voted against a given weapons system will not stick at all. Sure they’ll try it….go ahead and spend the money, Karl.

  13. Jon on

    You are correct, ‘kicked out’ is the wrong phrase. My point is that there were no inspectors in Iraq at the time of the vote. Not counting Bush’s lies, there was good reason to believe that Hussein had enough nerve gas and biotoxins to kill hundreds or even thousands of people. He was also a thug in violation of international law. Reason to fight the war we fought, the way we fought it? absolutely not. But the resolution was what got the inspectors back in. The credible threat of force was what was needed to avoid force.
    As far as trusting the President, I really dislike Bush, but I don’t know that I trust him LESS than Saddam Hussein and without inspections, that is what a no vote would have amounted to.
    Here is a metaphore for ya. Hussein was like a termite nest in the Attic. The resolution was a service agreement that gave the front door keys to an exterminator. The exterminator killed the termites with dynamite, leaving a big whole in the ceiling that is worse than the original termite problem.
    Does that mean that we should have ignored the termites? No, it means that we should hire a better exterminator, which is what is going to happen in November.
    All that said, Edwards explains it a lot better than Kerry, who sounds like he is talking out of both sides of his face, even when he is describing the exact sort of nuanced position that I think is correct. Thats maybe just a style thing.

  14. upper left on

    Thank you for this thread. I wish we had been discussing this topic for the past four weeks. It was fairly obvious the day after Iowa that it was going to eventually come down to Kerry and Edwards. Better late than never.
    1) National security: It amazes me how many otherwise bright people seem convinced that Kerry’s Vietnam experience is some sort of magic talisman that will ward off Republican Boogeymen on the security issue. Granted Kerry’s service gives him (to use Ruy’s term) “threshhold credibility” in this area. This threshhold credibility is a significant reason that primary voters think Kerry is more electable. However, Kerry’s actions 35 years ago, no matter how honorable, do not necessarily make him a strong candidate for Commander-in-Chief. I think most voters understand this.
    The real issue isn’t what these guys did more than three decades ago; the real issue is leadership and judgement. One of Bush’s biggest strengths is the perception among a majority of the public that he is a strong and decisive leader. IMO, Bush has been wrong from the beginning on his response to 9/11, but he has been steadfast in his wrong-headedness.
    In contrast, one of Kerry’s biggest weaknesses is the fact that he can easily be portrayed as vacilating and politically opportunistic. I fear that this will translate as “weakness” in the minds of many swing voters. Kerry voted against Gulf War I. He voted for defense and intelligence cuts in the 90s, and he has been all over the map on the current Iraq war.
    I recognize that Kerry has a superficial advantage over Edwards on the security/defense issue, but I fear the vacilation issue will be HUGE. Conservative pundits have already started beating the drum, and over time, I think Kerry’s superficial advantage will erode.
    2) Domestic policy: Kerry and Edwards are basically pitching the same message. The question is which one would be a more effective messenger:
    With the exception of his Vietnam service, Kerry’s image is, IMO, all wrong. Just think about how he will be defined by Bush’s $200 million and the conservative mud-slingers: Massachusetts, ultra-liberal; Ted Kennedy’s best buddy; patrician-elitist background; Skull and Bones member; second marriage to a pushy, ultra-rich, foriegner; rumors of personal life issues.
    Contrast this to Edwards compelling up-from-the-working-class story. The heart wrenching story of his sons death and he and his wife having a second pair of children. Combine this with Edwards’ warmth, charisma, finely honed communication skills, and the inescapable facts of geography, and I think it is hard to come to any other conclusion than that Edwards would be a more compelling messenger.
    It doesn’t matter who is ahead in the polls with which groups at this point. What matters is how these guys are positioned and what vulnerabilities they carry with them into the fall. The message and the messenger have to be congruent.
    Finally, I think it gets down to a question of perception. What do you think is the key to the election? If your answer is matching Bush on national security machismo, then maybe Kerry is the guy. On the other hand, I believe the key to winning this election is to connect with the economic anxiety of the working and middle classes. I think there are a lot of people who are very concerned about the jobless recovery, the outsourcing trend, the fiscal mess, and the huge tax give-away to the rich. It is still the economy stupid!

  15. Donald from Hawaii on

    RE: Jon — “Hussein HAD kicked the inspectors out in 98 …”
    Actually, Hussein did not kick them out — he just wasn’t coperating with them in the manner we thought he should. We subsequently ordered their withdrawal.
    The problem I and many, many other Democrats had — and some still have — with the Oct. 2002 Iraq war resolution was that Sen. Kerry had spoken out vociferously against it prior to the vote — and then voted in favor if it. And he apparently did so, stating later that he “trusted this president to do the right thing.”
    Say what?
    It would be best not to even attempt to excuse Kerry’s decision to “[trust] this president to this right thing.” That serious lapse of judgment still doesn’t sit too well with me — and I’m one of Kerry’s supporters.

  16. rt on

    The message I took from Edwards’ response was what I indicated below. He said it in far fewer words and in a way that came off as forthright rather than evasive.
    On the other hand, I was put off by Kerry’s reply. The substance of what he was saying didn’t get through to me.
    What you may not see is the irony of me having to have you tell me that my interpretation of what Edwards meant was close to what Kerry was trying to say. Because I sure didn’t get that listening to Kerry myself.
    I agree that the “dramatic action” part of his remarks was unintelligible.

  17. Frederick on

    “Legal Fiction” has persuasively argued at his blog, at http://www.lawandpolitics.blogspot.com , that Edwards is more electable because we don’t live in a democracy, as Bush’s “election” in 2000 showed so painfully. To wit, it is plausible to argue that Edwards could win every single state that Kerry could win, and then some. Edwards unlike Kerry has a chance of winning Southern states, and probably has a better chance of winning border states like West Virginia. All Edwards has to do to win is win the states Gore won, plus his home state of North Carolina (15 electoral votes that would normally be a Republican lock), and he wins. And he’s also, by virtue of being a Southerner, way more competitive in other Southern states like SC, VA, and AR, again, in border states like WV, than Kerry would be. If Kerry wins CA, NY, and IL by bigger margins than Edwards would have, that gives us 0 extra electoral votes. Nightmare scenario: Kerry wins all the Gore states, plus NH (Gore + Nader got a majority in NH in 2000) and WV (a normally Dem state that Gore managed to lose). That results in an electoral vote tie, and Dubya wins in the House of Representatives.

  18. Jon on

    About the war vote. That vote was conducted while there were no inspectors in Iraq and Sanctions were weakening monthly. The vote was not between using the UN to contain Iraq and a unilateral invasion, it was a choice between doing absolutely nothing and taking Iraq seriously as a threat that MIGHT require force to address. Hussein HAD kicked the inspectors out in 98 and probably himself thought he had WMD stockpiles. Almost everyone did. (Bush lied about the nukes and unmanned drones and deserves to pay a price for that, but we ALL thought Hussein had enough nerve gas to kill a few thousand people. After all we sold it to him!)
    Congress authorized force which scared Hussein into being a good boy again. At that point there was no need for war. But lets not confuse the vote to authorize force with the choice to use it after it was authorized.
    Anyway, I am probably arguing with people who are far more liberal than I am, but I am glad that the nominee will have voted the way they did. Dean was profoundly unserious.

  19. Kay Bonanno on

    Face it. There will be a day when it is recognized that the best man for the job is Howard Dean. When Kerry and Edwards lose their luster, it will become obvious we all missed the best chance for America. Have no fear, tho, his message will not be lost on deaf ears.

  20. frankly0 on

    rt, do you happen to notice that your “clarification” of Edwards’ comment sounds remarkably like what John Kerry said himself — long, nuanced, accepting responsibility only in a very limited way, but NOT accepting the brunt of the responsibility for the war and its costs, etc.
    What you DON’T see is how little resemblance your own response has to Edwards. Let’s revisit that response. “The answer to your question is of course. We all accept responsibility for what we did. I did what I believed was right. I took it very, very seriously. I also said at the same time that it was critical when we got to this stage that America not be doing this alone. The president is doing it alone. And the result is what we see happening to our young men and women right now. We need to take a dramatic course. We will take a dramatic course.”
    Now it should be obvious that there is a HUGE leap from “We all accept responsibility for what we did.” to the, dare I say, long winded response you came up with, which is a trifle short of a simple Yes or No answer, wouldn’t you say? (Isn’t it obviously, yes in certain respects I was responsible, but no in most?).
    That’s what I mean by the shallowness and glibness of Edwards answer.
    And what, I ask, does the poor man mean when he says at the end, “We need to take a dramatic course. We will take a dramatic course”? I’m sure that his eager supporters will find some meaning for it, but for everyone else it’s just a head scratcher.
    Look, the problem with Edwards, or at least A major problem with him, is that he doesn’t know a whole hell of a lot (witness also his pretty complete ignorance of the DMA). Very likely some years down the line he’ll get past this. In the meantime though, he’s just not ready for prime time.
    (And I was not claiming you were calling names. That post was addressed to Susan Nunes.)

  21. Jon on

    moraks, if Kerry is more electable that Edwards just because he has won 16 contests is valid, could you extrapolate the argument back to when Kerry had won 7 out of 9? 2 out of 2? 1 out of 1? Why even have primaries, just hold a caucus in Des Moines and call it good!
    My point about him being more electable in the general is based on the fact that I believe that moderates and liberal republicans will be more receptive to him than Kerry or Bush– a fact that IS helping Edwards in the primaries but does not make him a shoe in, since most of the voters are liberal democrats. The primary is not just a dress rehersal for the general but a totally different contest to win over a totally different type of voter.
    I believe he would make a better president for similar reasons. The fact that conservative leaning congressional districts and states would not hate him with the intensity with which they would hate Kerry would give Edwards a more cooperative congress to work with. Also, call it charm, vision, charisma, whatever, but the ability to communicate and persuade is important. Edwards has it and and KErry doesn’t (or he has been hiding it).
    I could be wrong either of these points, but to convince me you would have to persuade me that independents and liberal republicans would be more likely to support Kerry than Edwards. Pointing out how liberals have been voting won’t cut it.
    I am encouraged that you actually seem to be FOR Kerry though. That is a good sign.

  22. Ron Thompson on

    I’m afraid we just have to face the fact that there are people who care so little about the world and their country that they will vote for Nader rather than help defeat President Bush. If they didn’t learn four years ago, they never will. Some of the Dean supporters will fall into that category; others will vote Democratic. Their loss will only make it more imperative that Democrats run a campaign that appeals to moderates and Independents.

  23. Ally on

    I know this is off the subject, but I’m deeply disturbed to read that Ralph Nader will probably announce his candidacy for the 2004 election.
    Am I scared for good reason? Will the Dean supporters vote for him even though it will only help King George II?

  24. Ram on

    When picking a candidate to represent a party. You must put into consideration all the facts. I would agree that Kerry has the edge over Edwards as the plausible most viable candidate to face Bush. As mentioned, John Kerry leads in polls, character traits, and has an unmatched record on national security and serving our nation. If you place Kerry on one balance and Edwards on another…it would tilt toward Kerry.

  25. rt on

    In reply to franklyo’s questions/comments
    Edwards’ answer was straightforward to me–he was taking responsibility because he voted to authorize the use of force. To the extent the Senate vote enabled or made it easier for the President to proceed every senator who voted for that resolution bears responsibility for what subsequently has followed.
    I took Edward to be distinguishing his approach from that of the President by saying that if he were President he would have gone in with a coalition in support–or not at all.
    I would hope voters can see–or could be helped to see–the difference between the vote of a senator on a war resolution and the actions of the President, who had great latitude on how and under what circumstances he took the country into war.
    Many senators in their floor remarks qualified their vote to authorize war with caveats which the Administration might have been wise to heed. I don’t get the impression the Administration was paying much attention to what the senators had to say.
    The President bears a far greater share of responsibility for what has transpired. I don’t see how anything Edwards said impairs his ability to make that simple point if he decided he wanted to make it.
    This is incoherent? Hypocritical?
    I hope my remarks were not taken as name-calling. They were not intended in that spirit.

  26. DS on

    I have to agree with that the conclusion Ruy stated is not valid. (“…Edwards is clearly more electable than Kerry.”) However, this is not the same as the conclusion many people are drawing: “Let’s see more of both Kerry and Edwards before we choose a nominee.”
    What Edwards showed in Wisconsin is that he did well among both the moderate/independent and conservative/republican groups. This has encouraged people to take another look at him and give him more scrutiny. Besides is it so bad if the press likes the guy? Regardless, more exposure will hopefully help even out the name recognition playing field and allow us all to take a bit more faith in what the polls & elections are telling us.
    The end of Ruy’s article is a pitch for Kerry with no comparison to Edwards. Yes the numbers cited bode well for the Kerry & the Dems, but as mentioned elsewhere, unless the primary brings out someone who can get people’s attention, the election will be a referendum on the Bush presidency.
    Regardless, I think people have been convinced to take a look at Edwards rather than resting with the presumptive nominee. This is a good thing regardless of who the nominee is.
    Trivia: Who was the last president elected with 20 years of Senate experience?

  27. frankly0 on

    So, Susan your argument is that Kerry can’t win because he’s a “Massachusetts liberal”. And then a bunch of names get called.
    That’s it?
    Now who is this “argument” supposed to convince?

  28. Susan Nunes on

    And by the way, Clinton lost a slew of primaries before winning the nomination.
    Nobody is going to vote for waffling blowhard for president when it comes down the the general election. Kerry’s “experience,” whatever the hell that is, is pretty mediocre (except for his invesigative prowess).
    Any HONEST observer would know Kerry has a ton of liabilities that the Republicans will exploit to the hilt.
    I think the Kerry supporters are scared shitless because Edwards is VASTLY more talented.

  29. Susan Nunes on

    What utter crap.
    Kerry cannot win ANYWHERE outside of Massachusetts.
    Massachusetts liberal=loser. Rove will see to it.
    Don’t some of you EVER get it through your heads what it takes to win elections?
    Edwards is a MILLION times better than that Boston Blowhard will EVER be. The Republicans know it, it’s just too bad pseudoliberals NEVER get it in their heads.

  30. frankly0 on

    So, rt, since you think that Edwards’ response was straightforward and crystal clear, what exactly WAS his answer to whether he felt he personally was responsible for the costs and casualties of the Iraq War?
    I take it that you would say that he was claiming he WAS so responsible? Do you really think that he would want to be saddled with this position when he starts to criticize BUSH for taking action in Iraq? Why wouldn’t Bush simply respond, look, you yourself said that your own vote put YOU on record as bearing responsibility for this war and its costs and its casualties! How can you criticize me? Aren’t you engaging in the very worst sort of hypocrisy?

  31. rt on

    On this matter of Edwards and Kerry’s response to the debate question (on whether they take responsibility for their Iraq war vote):
    1) When I heard Kerry’s reply my responses to it were “Bullshit” and “What the hell did he just say?” I thought his reply was a caricature of the evasive politician who, not wanting to answer a question, fillibusters it to death so no one can understand a word he said. And I thought that was absolutely transparent to everyone watching.
    2) Edwards’ response was straightforward and crystal clear. I disagree that that response would hurt him if it came in a general debate with Bush. I think it would have helped him. By saying directly that he takes responsibility for his actions and quickly moving on he gave the audience a chance to actually hear how his way of handling it would have differed from Bush’s: he would not have gone in alone. That is likely a view favored by the majority of the electorate if the choice is between that and going it alone as Bush did. So at once he came off as a straight shooter and put himself on the favored side of the issue in response to a question that could have hurt him.
    3) Yes, it is necessary for effective politicians to filibuster and dodge questions from the media at times. Edwards showed, very creatively and artfully I thought, that that particular question didn’t have to be one such occasion. He turned a potential lemon into lemonade. Gifted communicators have the ability to do that. Less gifted communicators respond the way Kerry did. And after awhile people give up even trying to understand what on earth they’re saying.
    Certainly Edwards has not fielded some questions well (his answer on what he thinks of Islam comes to mind). And Kerry, especially in the week or so after his Iowa win, was extremely effective–right on point and to the point–in the interviews he was doing with the media.
    But to the extent that people associate Edwards and Kerry with their responses to that question in the Wisconsin debate, I have to believe that favors Edwards and hurts Kerry with most voters.

  32. PhillyGuy on

    All this talk about “electability” and no one is mentioning the REAL election, which is 51 contests for electoral votes.
    The real question to be answered here is, between Kerry and Edwards, who can pull along the Gore states AND add at least 11 more votes to get to 270?
    In 2000, six states ended up within two percent for both Gore/Nader and Bush/Buchanan. Those states were Nevada (5 electoral votes), Florida (27), Ohio (20), Missouri (11), Iowa (7) and New Hampshire (4). Assuming another close election, is Kerry or Edwards more likely to pull in either a combination of the small states or one of the bigger ones?
    In order to answer that quesion, one must figure out who is more likely to carry the city of Las Vegas, working-class and rural voters in Ohio, Missouri and Iowa, and the highly educated swing voters of southern New Hampshire. Then there’s Florida.
    I picture Edwards doing better in most of these places (namely Iowa, Missouri and Ohio where Kerry’s image as an elite northeast liberal won’t be so attractive) but not New Hampshire (where Kerry would have the geographic advantage of being a neighbor). Nevada is a tough call, but my edge would go to Edwards because he’s seen as more of an outside Washington guy (which usually plays much better out west). I admit having absolutely no idea who could stand a better chance in Florida (could Edwards score better because of rural northern Florida, or perhaps Kerry would do better because northereastern “snowbirds” living in Miami?).

  33. moraks on

    jon, how is edwards a better candidate than kerry if he has lost 16 out of 18 races to him?, if you cannot convince people who are prone to like you better than another candidate that somehow makes you better to people who are prone to like you less, you need to win the democratic party primary before you can run for the general election, you cannnot bat .150 in the minors and claim that you will be better in the majors. how do you know thathe will be a better president, beacuse he is charming and gives a great speech? surely not based on performance in the senate, we already have GWB in there with no experience and been led by staff and see where that has gotten us, I like john edwards a lot but not as the president in these times, again my question is what will be his response to his lack of national secutiry credentials, kerry is not as dovish as you think he supported bosnia, kosovo, haiti,

  34. Rob on

    While “electability” issues are certainly important, the Democrats (Kerry, Edwards, and the DNC) need to be giving some serious thought to another serious question: How to innoculate themselves and the party against a potentially election-changing event that I feel certain is going to break anywhere from one to four months before the election: the capture of Osama bin Laden. In his interview with Tim Russert, Bush’s words and body language telegraphed clearly that this is something he is determined to do and is in fact already hard at work on. And recent press accounts indicate that U.S. forces are receiving unprecedented cooperation from the Pakistani military and government in confronting tribal leaders on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as part of their efforts to root out al Quaeda forces — and capture Osama. One U.S. commander was actually quoted as referring to this effort as “unfinished business” — a phrase with unmistakable political resonance. Since Bush’s approval ratings have spiked at every single war- or terrorism-related event (9-11, Afghanistan war, Iraq war, capture of Saddam Hussein), there is every reason to expect the biggest spike since 9-11 if and when Osama is captured, given his key role in planning that event and other world-shaking terrorism events dating back at least to 1998. If Rove, Rumsfeld and Cheney can time this thing right, it may just keep the bozo in the White House (and moot issues of “electability”).

  35. zada merri8ll on

    Both Edwards and kerry must say they made a mistake in giving Bush authorization to invade Iraq. they would be more believable .

  36. Martin Johnson on

    Another reason why Kerry is less electable than Edwards:
    Gay Marriage
    Already this is shaping up to be the Repulican’s wedge issue for social conservatives. And while Edwards isn’t vulnerable here (he’s been consistent that he’s against gay marriage), Kerry is for the following reasons.
    *He voted against DOMA, which Clinton signed and the Christian right is very familiar with (even if Edwards isn’t).
    *He’s waffled on this issue also. The Republicans will use this to their advantage.
    *He’s from Massachusetts, which will likely host the first gay marriage this summer, possibly during the convention.
    If the evangelicals think a vote for Bush is a vote against gay marriage, they’ll come out to the polls and work for Bush to make sure this doesn’t happen. On the other hand, if they think Edwards doesn’t pose a threat they’ll either stay home or may listen to his message on other issues. As recently as 1976, evangelicals were just as likely to vote Democratic, and Edwards might be able to win some of them back. Kerry, on the other hand, won’t.

  37. Jon on

    Does anyone really think that his time in Vietnam will make him a stronger leader against our enemies? Or do we just think that other people think that way. OK, according to that poll Ruy sighted 19% claim to care. Now if I believed that those 19% were swing voters, you would be right. However, I would bet money that almost all of those 19% are partisan democrats like me, who are reflecting anger and Bush’s chickenhawk antics rather than actually caring about whether their president had been to war.
    The question is, will the people who have NOT made up their minds to vote for or against Bush care about Kerrys military record? There is no evidence that they do. They care about jobs and who will do a good job of taking it to the enemy. A war hero with a 30 year voting record of being a dove is still a dove who sees terrorism as a law enforment problem. A limisine liberal is still not going to understand the hardship of loosing a job.
    If Kerry wins, I will support him and vote for him, but its clear that Edwards would be a far far better general election candidate and a better president to boot.

  38. frankly0 on

    People use Edwards’ quip, “I’ve never heard a longer answer to a yes or no question” in the Wisconsin debate as a splendid example of how he communicates so much better than Kerry, and so is more electable.
    Now, I’ll grant that Edwards’ shot at Kerry was effective, and that Kerry might have found a sharper formulation of his answer.
    But if you look at the details of the question Kerry was asked, and the shallowness of Edwards own response, you realize why it is Kerry and not Edwards who was showing the real political savvy.
    Go back to the question Kerry was originally asked:
    “Let me turn to you, Senator Kerry, because you said your vote wasn’t a vote for what the president ultimately did. But you did vote to give him the authority, so do you feel any degree, any degree of responsibility for the war and its costs and casualties?”
    Now Kerry realized that this question was trying to trap him into accepting responsibility for costs and casualties of the Iraq war. Suppose Kerry had simply said, Yes, as Edwards claimed he would have answered. Then, immediately, this would have been seized upon by the Bush campaign as a mark of hypocrisy — how can Kerry criticize Bush for the war when he himself accepts responsibility for having supported it? In fact, of course, what Kerry answered was far closer to a NO to the question, which is important, so that the heat remains directly on Bush on the Iraq war.
    Consider in contrast Edwards’ “elaboration” of his Yes answer:
    “That’s the longest answer I ever heard to a yes or no question. The answer to your question is of course. We all accept responsibility for what we did. I did what I believed was right. I took it very, very seriously. I also said at the same time that it was critical when we got to this stage that America not be doing this alone. The president is doing it alone. And the result is what we see happening to our young men and women right now. We need to take a dramatic course. We will take a dramatic course.”
    Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t the slightest idea what all this is supposed to mean. Edwards is saying yes, he’s responsible, but for what? For the costs and casualties? What does it mean that “we all accept responsibilities for what we did”? It is nothing more than a vacuous statement, but could be seized upon by the right to indicate that he DID accept responsibility for the war, and is in no position to criticize Bush. The remainder of his “explanation” is empty rhetoric with no visible meaning.
    In short, Edwards took a glib, and rather cheap shot at Kerry. It was effective enough for the particular occasion, but demonstrates a shallowness of understanding and savvy that would have damaged him in the long run, had he become an actual nominee instead of only an also ran.

  39. Martin Johnson on

    As a diehard Edwards supporter (esp. given that Kerry’s the only alternative), it’s good to read an argument for Kerry’s electability. Underlying the argument are a few premises which I dispute:
    1. The election will about national security.
    As someone who’s come of age in the post-cold war era, it’s hard for me to imagine an electorate that’s focused on national security. I think that if we did have another another terrorist attack or international crisis before the election, Bush will be elected regardless. When have the American people ever changed horses midstream during a time of war?
    From all the polls I’ve read, national security is low on the list of voter concerns. At best, national security is a code word for something else – like decisiveness, and I think Edwards, by benefit of a short record and focused campaign, will be better off than Just For Kerry. Kerry’s done well to emphasize this issue to put him into play for the nomination, but I think voters will look at issues and a gut feeling about the candidate when it comes down to the general election.
    This is the big one. I think the election will be about jobs, health care, education and other domestic issues, not about national security. If it is about national security, Kerry’s only marginally better off than Bush because of his contradictory statements on past wars. So – advantage Edwards.
    2. Kerry and Edwards are equally likeable.
    Kerry’s likeability will collapse once voters get a better look at him. The media already doesn’t like him, and that perception alone will eventually creep into the voter’s mind, the way the media’s dislike of Gore did.
    3. Experience matters.
    Again, I see no data to back this up. Voters were able to overlook Bush’s lack of experience, and they’ll do the same for Edwards. In American politics, particularly at the presidential level, experience is a liability. It’s a shame, but it is. Kerry’s record will hurt him much, much more than Edwards lack of one.
    All of this said, the media seems biased toward national security/foreign affairs (especially in the debates) and experience, so that might hurt Edwards a little. But then, Bush was able to break through the media to get votes, and Edwards can do the same.

  40. Paul Criswell on

    I think people are very seriously underestimating John Kerry’s ability as a campaigner. I have watched him here in Massachusetts for twenty years. He has an uncanny knack for finding a theme that strikes at his opponent’s weak spot and is unmerciful in hammering at it. He can sometimes bore people, he can drive them nuts, he can look like he is doing poorly in the polls — but when the only real poll comes around — election day — he wins! (Just like he has here in the primaries.) We can debate strategy and gnash our teeth here on this board about missing tactical opportunities, but when it comes to running a campaign, John Kerry will do a great job.

  41. moraks on

    Finally, somebody expresses my feelings with raw data, i have been trying to tell people that kerry is afr more electable than edwards, TNR and saletan seem to just wash over the national security issue when it come to the general election, bush is going to play that up to the hilt. I like edwards but what will be is response when he is charged correctly as lacking experience, personal and professionlly in this area? your vp pick will not innoculate you but pictures of you in vietnam with an m16 rifle in your hand and a live republican in your ads professing his gratitude for saving his life just might do the trick, also the ability to spend as much as necessary since kerry is not taking matching funds will be significant

  42. Jon on

    Kerry would not be able to get any southern states in the general, and Edwards would not be enough to change that. Kerry would need to sweep the coasts and midwest and thus should pick Even Byah or Bill Richardson. I hate that strategy for what it would do to down ticket races in the South, but thats clearly what Kerry has in mind and if he gets the nod we have to hope it works.
    Edwards would do well with Kerry, but I think he would do even better with Joe Biden. Biden is an incredibly knowledgable and exerienced advocate of a hard nosed centrist foreign policy. He would be able to keep the Bush administration reeling with a weekly punch on the miserable state of our foreign affairs, and lay out a sane appealing alternative.
    Just my two cents.

  43. Jon on

    Ruy is too smart to misuse polls that way. The 15% of the people who say that Bushes military experience makes him less likely to garner their vote were not going to vote for him anyway. NONE of them. Kerrys 19% is the same deal. About a fifth of the people polled, all hard core democrats, are giving Kerrys campaign schpiel a thumbs up. Thats all. They would have to be much higher to be good news for Kerry, as ‘Vietnam Vet’ is Kerrys ENTIRE campaign.
    There is only one question:
    “Of the people who have not already made up their mind to vote for or against Bush, which guy do they like more, Kerry or Edwards”. So far all of the evidence is that that person is John Edwards.

  44. MAtoNC on

    Maybe I’m not hearing this because I’m reading/watching the wrong stuff, but is there any other logical ticket out there besides Kerry/Edwards or Edwards/Kerry?
    Dean is radioactive, Gephardt is a retread who lost the midterm elections for the first time in years, Lieberman has been a losing VP once and Clark’s military experience might make him a nice joint chief, but Kerry’s stripes look better at this point.
    At this point, I think we’ve got the ticket and are struggling to figure out the order. Anyone disagree?

  45. Mark S on

    As far as I’m concerned, the electability question has been settled. Kerry and Edwards are the most electable of the Democratic candidates, and the differences between them are marginal. It’s time to move on to another topic.
    Personally, I’m supporting Edwards because I think he’s applying some much needed pressure on Kerry to modify his position on the economy etc. Even if Edwards does not prevail, he plays a significant role if he pushes Kerry out of his passive stand on issues of race and class.
    And folks have already noticed how much Kerry’s message is starting to resemble Edward’s “Two Americas” position…

  46. KB on

    The one thing Edwards strong showing is proving, even if he loses to Kerry, is that Edwards would be a better VP pick than Gephardt for helping take Ohio in November. Remember how Gephardt was supposed to play so well in Iowa? He came in fourth (4th!). Edwards positioning on trade and his stump speech on jobs and outsourcing makes him a great veep pick to go into Ohio in the fall. He can do everything Gephardt can do. He proved he could deliver more in Iowa than Gephardt could deliver. Plus, he brings freshness, newness, star power, and a stylistic balance to Kerry that is desperately needed. Edwards may not win the nomination, but what he is doing is earning himself a place on the ticket. Edwards veep strength is not really about the south or North Carolina at all. It is, instead, about those parts of Ohio that are currentlt red, but could turn blue.

  47. MAtoNC on

    I agree with the poster who is concerned about Kerry’s essay answers. One of Edwards’ greatest strengths is distilling his vision into easy-to-understand answers. This was evident in the last debate. Kerry is not so good at this on some days, and worse on others.
    While it’s not what I necessary look for in a candidate, I don’t think most people mull over policy like those who read this website. People connect with Bush’s clarity and perceived “decisiveness.” I think he’s got it all wrong, but I don’t doubt he believes what he’s doing is right. (which makes it all the scarier) His whole economic program can be summed up thusly, in his parlance: “I believe in a strong economy. Amurcans are strong people. A strong government is one that lets people decide what to do with their money. My tax cuts give money back to the people and provide a strong stimulus. You see, if people have more money in their pockets, they’re more likely to buy a good or a service, and that’s what keeps our economy strong.”
    Okay, so maybe I didn’t use the word “strong” enough to adequately mimic Bush. But regardless of whether Bush’s back-of-a-napkin econ 101 stump speech fails the laugh test, people listen to him and think “well, that seems to be reasonable. If the government keeps less of my money, I have more to spend.”
    Edwards’ appeal lies in a mind that can grasp what Kerry is saying and speaks in a language that those who admire (or at least relate to) Bush’s simplicity can understand.
    Just imagine Kerry and Bush and then Edwards and Bush at the debates. Outside the opportunity of Kerry to hammer Bush on Vietnam, Edwards is the much more fearsome opponent for Bush.

  48. Paul on

    Isn’t it more realistic to saythat the Dems are confused about which nominee could beat Bush? I bet they are feeling baited by the Republicans because the consensus seems to be Bush would have a harder fight vs Edwards. Yet, the Dems are all on Kerry’s back. See how quick they jumped off Dean and you will see how reliable that party really is.

  49. kelly on

    My bigger problem with the argument is one of omission. Where is the discussion of the south? I think one reason many people were turned on to Edwards’ Wisconsin performance is that people don’t necessarily expect him to win in the north… they way they do in the south. Which, contrary to Kerry’s beliefs, is pretty important to electoral strategy.
    I’m all for any Democrat running against Bush, but I really worry about the party making the same mistake they did last time around: pitting intellectualism against a strong message (only without the benefit this time of a sort-of southern candidate). I bet more people could sum up Edwards’ message in five words than Kerry’s’. And unfortunately, friends, personality and good soundbites are most of what it’s all about.

  50. Anno-nymous on

    How much credence can we put in polls like the “Bush vs… ” ones at http://www.pollingreport.com/wh04gen.htm ? It seems like these should be the ultimate benchmarks for electability — after all, they count exactly how many people “swing” to each candidate without any demographic extrapolation required. But do differences in Bush vs. Kerry compared to Bush vs. Edwards really mean anything, or is it just a measure of Democratic name recognition? At any rate, the “Edwards wins independents so would do better in a general election” idea *seems* to be very clearly refuted by his worse (though improving) results in these polls.

  51. Brian Y on

    Well, let me repeat something I said in a previous post:
    In general, however, I still lean towards Edwards. His biggest weakness is his lack of national security creds. But that can be partially addressed by his choice of running mate (maybe Clark?), and by attacking Bush for his many failures.
    The fact is, this election will turn on how Americans view Bush, not on Kerry or Edwards. If Bush’s approval ratings are in the mid or upper 50s on election day, he’ll win. If they’re in the lower 50s, or even 40s, he could lose. But when people vote out an incumbent president, it helps if the person they’re picking to replace him with doesn’t have a lot of baggage of his own, like Kerry. I think when incumbents are voted out, people want a clean slate, a fresh start for the country. In that sense, Edwards would be a more logical choice.

  52. frankly0 on

    One point worth bearing in mind with respect to the upcoming election is the crossover vote effect, not just the inclinations of independents.
    A number of commentators have made big hay out of the fact that, in many states which allowed Republicans to vote in the Dem primary, the Republican voters went in favor of Edwards. One key fact that they have failed to acknowledge though is that the bigger, more worrisome, crossover vote in the upcoming election would Dems who vote for Bush. In most recent polls, the number of Rs who disapprove of Bush’s performance is in the high single digits, but the number of Dems who approve of Bush’s performance is about 20%, essentially twice the size.
    Now, no doubt a good number of these Dems are likely to be voters formerly known as Reagan Democrats — working class, concerned with defense. Yet who wins among these, even in Wisconsin? Kerry, not Edwards. The general point here is that it’s far more important to minimize the potentially very sizable Dem crossover vote than to increase the potential Republican crossover vote, which is relatively quite small.
    Kerry’s impressive showing among Dems, even in Wisconsin, and, again, particularly among the less affluent, suggests that it is he who can keep the Reagan Dems in the fold.

  53. Drew Vogel on

    Ruy, what about the issue of public financing? Doesn’t the fact that Kerry opted out of public financing give him a tangible advantae over Edwards in the general election? I ask this as someone who has believed wholeheartedly in the “Edwards is more electable than Kerry” thesis since Iowa. But I’ve always thought that the public financing issue was the biggest counter-argument to my position.
    Any thoughts?
    As to the merits of you post, I agree that Wisconsin does not remotely settle the issue of “who’s more electable?” Moreover, I don’t think a comparison of electability is very helpful. I think a given candidate either is or is not electable. Both Kerry and Edwards are. That’s the important thing. People will either vote for or against Bush. On the other hand, if it is going to be as close an election as everyone predicts, perhaps the gradations of electability really are important.
    Oh damn, I just talked myself out of my thesis. I hate it when that happens!


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