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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Crackers (and Lawyers) for Edwards

One of the more interesting strategic issues in the Democratic presidential contest is John Edwards’ simultaneous effort to cast himself as the most progressive candidate, and as the most electable candidate. And a big part of his electability argument is that he’s the only candidate with southern regional appeal.
I’ve been quite skeptical of this last assertion, given the lack of any objective evidence that Edwards is particularly popular with southern Democrats, much less southern voters generally. But as part of its latest “electability” p.r. drive, the Edwards campaign today released a list of endorsements from my home state of Georgia. And at the elite level at least, it sure looks like Edwards is hanging on to a lot of Peach State supporters who backed him in 2004, when he was running a DLC-ish campaign.
The list includes a lot of center and center-right Democrats who probably wouldn’t fit in real well at an Edwards netroots event. There’s former governor Roy Barnes, former Lt. Governor (and 2006 gubernatorial nominee) Mark Taylor, and former congressman Ben “Cooter” Jones. There’s the Democratic leaders of both chambers of the state legislature. There are a number of other elected officials whom no one would ever describe as lefties.
But the list also includes a host of endorsements from people described as “attorneys,” and that gets to an affinity Edwards enjoys in the South that may be as important as his southern identity. I’m not sure if non-southerners are aware of this, but trial lawyers play an outsized role in the financial and logistical infrastructure of the Democratic Party in the Deep South. In no small part that’s because the labor movement, in both the public and private sectors, is relatively weak in the region, and also because recent Republican victories in the South have significantly eroded business support for Democrats. So trial lawyers are a really big deal down South, and Edwards’ rep as one of the best trial lawyers ever to smile at a jury provides him with an enduring base of support, no matter what he’s saying at any given moment about Iraq or health care.
It’s unclear, of course, whether this elite support for Edwards is communicable to actual voters. In 2004, he lost the Georgia primary to John Kerry despite a pretty robust effort. One of his problems is chronically low levels of support from African-Americans in the South in a field with one African-American and another candidate with unusual appeal to African-Americans.
But he’s certainly giving it the college–or maybe law school–try in the South, and if he survives to compete there, it could get interesting.

2 comments on “Crackers (and Lawyers) for Edwards

  1. davybaby on

    Ben “Cooter” Jones is a “Georgia Democrat” again? The last time he surfaced he was running for congress in Virginia.

  2. write2bheard on

    The problem Edwards faces is that he must convince primary voters that he is the most electable in the general election in order to get the nomination. While both Clinton and Obama have greater support in the South among the party faithful, neither has a chance AT ALL of winning any southern state because both have problems — Clinton will energize the GOP base to vote and Obama will lose the swing voters that tend to go GOP if they aren’t comfortable with the Dem nominee. Edwards is saying that if he can get to the general election, he has a shot at winning at least one of these states.
    I don’t know if it is true. I think looking at his performance in the 2004 primaries doesn’t wash, since by the time they were held Kerry had the Party mo’ behind him and was unstoppable. Edwards did pretty well against Kerry in the rural conservative Democratic districts even with Kerry’s nomination pretty much set. Look at my home state of Maryland, where Edwards held more than a third of the delegates (mostly from the rural areas), even though we all knew at that point that Kerry was going to be the nominee.
    So if he survives, and if the GOP base has nothing to get excited about, and if those supporting the two current whiz kids got behind Edwards, and if the swing voters went Dem instead of GOP, he could possibly win in SC, NC, and VA.


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