John Edwards has long been the favorite of the lefty blogosphere, even through Obama's initial rock star phase. Not surprising, considering that most of us are a bunch of hardcore political types and policy wonks. We're proud partisans, and we're tired of bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship, of "triangulation" that does nothing except reinforce rightwing talking points about the Democratic party.
The more I look at it, the more it seems that Edwards is committed to running a very different kind of campaign than what we've seen recently from Democrats. Kerry, for example, worked on setting up a narrative about himself, which was good, and after it was - he thought - established, he started in on policy proposals and setting forth his opinions. The problem, of course, is that right as Kerry thought his narrative was set in stone Rove began his attacks against that narrative. Kerry ignored them - thanks, Bob Shrum you idiot
- and all his ideas were lost in the noise of changing the public's image of him from patriotic, sacrificial warrior to self-serving, lying coward.
Edwards has been extremely active during the early days of this primary setting forth a comprehensive policy corpus. His proposals are very specific. But I think we're seeing the campaign start a shift from an early idea phase to going on the attack. At the last Democratic debate, Edwards went after Hillary and Obama for a lack of leadership on the Iraq War. Obama got in a good line about how he was opposed to the Iraq War before any of the others. But that rhetoric, which I can personally attest is a huge part of his campaign appearances, is going to wear thin before long. Americans are always asking our politicians, "what have you done for me lately?" Obama's opposition to the war before he was in the Senate is fine, but he's a Senator now, running for President and part of the Democratic Party's leadership in image if not in actual title. And pretty soon voters are going to wonder when Obama is going to really start to use his current position in Congress to show his opposition rather than relying on what he felt in the past.
It's the same type of thing that makes Hillary so vulnerable, with the added problem of having voted for the AUMF back in 2003. Edwards of course has that around his neck as well, but he has completely repudiated his vote. And as we've seen, he's going on the offensive on this issue, not only against his Democratic competitors but the Republican candidates as well.
This is from the GOP playbook: attack your opponent right at their perceived strength. Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor" and a so-called "hero" of 9/11 because he managed to hold a decent press conference that day. Just because our Federal leadership was MIA doesn't mean that standing in front of some TV cameras should count as heroic.
That appears to have sunken in at the Edwards campaign. Edwards is helping Giuliani tie himself to Bush's actions
"If Mayor Giuliani believes that what President Bush has done is good and wants to embrace it and run a campaign for the presidency saying 'I will give you four more years of what this president has given you,' he's allowed to do that.
"He'll never be elected president of the United States, but he's allowed to do that," he said.
"America is looking for something different. They want us to be tough ... but they expect us to be smart," he said.
This is good strategy on several fronts:
- Ties Giuliani completely to Bush
- Takes on the core of Giuliani's campaign strategy
- Tells the American people what they believe, what they want, and what they will do
The last is especially important, because it's something that the GOP has done very effectively for years now. I don't mean it in a pedantic sense, but in a self-fulfilling sense. He's got the idea out there that Giuliani's campaign strategy is a loser for him in a general election. He's appealing to the kind of self-image that Americans want to have, and doing it in such a way that makes Giuliani and by extension the whole GOP look like the opposite of that image.
Edwards is running a very specific campaign. He's doing everything he can to appeal to primary voters, giving us - and the lefty blogosphere is nothing if not hundreds of thousands of primary voters - the red meat we really want: standing up to the GOP and serious, progressive policy proposals. He's the first Democrat in a long time that seems to understand the GOP's campaign strategy, and he's changing his campaign timetable accordingly. Edwards isn't doing much to try and convince "swing" voters, because he doesn't need them for the nomination.
But if he is nominated, he will be in an excellent position to not only court the swing voters but also fend off GOP attacks, which are always based upon a person's character and story. Edwards' story is out there, but he isn't spending much time on it. As the Democratic nominee he will, I believe, spend way more time talking about his story, about who he is rather than specific initiatives. Those initiatives will have already been out there, and the party activists will, by the time of the Democratic convention, know enough about his initiatives and proposals to inform their family and friends all about them, to write letters to the editor and the like.
Swing voters, such as they are, don't really care about that stuff. They vote according to image which is why GOP attacks on image - which are always strongest at the end of the campaign - have been so effective. If Edwards is actively constructing his image during that phase of the campaign instead of relying upon work he did in the primary, the Republican attacks will be far less effective.
I'm not convinced that Edwards can get the nomination or, achieving that, can win in the general. I'm not convinced that any of our candidates can pull that off, though I like our chances. But Edwards is the one candidate out of the entire field that seems to really be listening to the Democratic Party's core and the nation as a whole rather than simply running the same dumb campaign we've seen the last couple of election cycles.