What's The Matter With John Edwards?


Ezra Klein, on why the Edwards' campaign isn't getting traction:

Part of his problem, from the beginning, has been that the media has treated him as yesterday's news. How many recent magazine covers has Obama received? Clinton? Edwards? Part of his problem has been that he's run, at times, a bad campaign, and made more news for missteps than for triumphs. And part has been that he's gotten strangely little coverage for his strengths, such as an apparently enduring lead in Iowa (though it looks like Hillary is closing in), substantial strength in general election match-up polls, and a compelling and detailed political platform. But at the end of the day, one of the reasons people don't like yesterday's product is the simple belief that it belongs to yesterday, and that, more than anything else, strikes me as the perception Edwards is battling.

As Jason Zengerle points out, a dearth of magazine covers hasn't exactly been Edwards' problem to date. Frankly, I've always thought that the media has given too much credit to Edwards - and in the process, artificially inflated his candidacy - by consistently lumping him in a "top three" with Clinton and Obama. He's a one-term Senator with no significant constituency in his home region who didn't exactly dazzle in his previous national audition - failing to capitalize on a broken-field chance at the nomination after Howard Dean imploded in the '04 primaries, and then failing to distinguish himself as John Kerry's running mate in the fall. (I've mentioned this before, but it's worth noting again: No losing vice-presidential candidate has taken the White House since FDR.) He has no foreign-policy experience whatsoever, and he admits to badly flubbing his biggest test on that front, the Iraq War authorization vote - a test, incidentally, that his similarly-inexperienced rival Obama passed with flying colors. And while his policy proposals may be admirably detailed, he's preaching what often feels like a "war on poverty" populism to an electorate that seems to be looking for more of a Jim Webb-style "save the middle class" populism; his "wealth versus work" '04 campaign, ironically enough, seems like it would be better-suited to the present moment than the "lift-up-the-underclass" themes he's emphasizing this time around.

Finally, he oozes smarm: He's got all of Mitt Romney's inauthenticity problems with hardly any of the substantive achievements. Everyone who's met him or worked for him thinks the world of him, and no doubt he's just as lovely as they say - but when he talks, I cringe. And to judge by the polls, I'm not alone.

Photo by Flickr user Michael Millhollin used under a Creative Commons license.