Skip to comments.In pack: Voters fail to notice Edwards
Posted on 06/26/2003 6:28:03 PM PDT by Libloather
In pack: Voters fail to notice Edwards
By ERIC DYER, Staff Writer
News & Record
U.S. Sen. John Edwards has barely paused since telling a TV audience six months ago he was running for president.
The attorney-turned-politician jets across the land to scoop up millions of dollars and meet with Democratic activists. He attends forums with his rivals, hires campaign staff and collects endorsements.
Rather than sounding tired, Edwards comes across as loving every minute.
"I have so much energy and passion for this campaign," he mentioned during a recent speech in Washington. "It drives me 16 hours a day, seven days a week."
Yet despite Edwards' efforts to build a national organization, his candidacy does not appear to have caught fire. The freshman North Carolina senator remains stuck in a pack clamoring for the Democrats' 2004 nomination, and he continues to poll poorly in early battleground states.
Merle Black, a government professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said one of Edwards' strengths entering the presidential race was his reputation for swooping onto the political scene as a novice in 1998 and defeating established candidates to win his Senate seat.
"His history is he doesn't have to stand in line and pay his dues like other politicians," Black said. "The feeling was, 'He did it in North Carolina, so why can't he do it nationally?' But this is a whole different ballgame."
Edwards is surrounded by Democratic competitors: Four past or present senators, two congressmen, a civil rights activist and a former New England governor are in the race, with another senator and a retired Army general poised to enter the fray.
None of them, though, has emerged as a front-runner to take on the Republican incumbent, President Bush. A survey in early May for The New York Times showed that two-thirds of voters could not name a single Democrat seeking the nation's highest office.
"Nobody else has broken out," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "That's the good news for everybody."
The campaign dynamics will change as the year advances and the candidates gain more attention. The first nominating elections are seven months away.
Much of the focus so far has been toward raising money, and in this department Edwards succeeded. He raked in $7.4 million the first three months of this year, exceeding all others.
The cash was a source of pride for Edwards' campaign, but it also caused headaches.
Republicans panned his heavy reliance on trial lawyers for contributions, and some donations were questioned after an Arkansas law-firm worker told The Washington Post that her boss promised to reimburse the $2,000 she gave Edwards -- a violation of federal law.
New fund-raising numbers will be released after the current quarter ends next week. Frequent flier To raise the money needed for a national campaign, Edwards must travel from city to city to court Democrats with big wallets. Increasingly, these trips are about grabbing publicity and not just picking up checks.
Edwards swings through communities such as Newton, Iowa; Gorham, N.H.; and Bennettsville, S.C. -- small towns in states that host the nation's earliest nominating elections next winter. He has a visit planned this weekend to Arizona, which also plans an early primary contest, for a conference of Latino government officials at a Phoenix resort.
In these and other places, Edwards often mingles with local folks and delivers a fairly consistent stump speech that requires no cue cards. He talks about his poor Southern childhood, assails U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for eroding civil liberties to combat terrorism and finds a dozen ways to chastise Bush as an elitist with misguided policies.
Edwards diverts from his remarks when he rolls out pieces of his populist platform. Among the recommendations he already has advanced are:
- rolling back middle-class taxes by $160 billion while eliminating cuts for wealthier people that were part of Bush's tax-cut packages.
- using federal dollars to cover freshman-year tuition for students at public universities or community colleges.
- creating a $1 billion pool of capital to invest in small-town businesses.
Edwards' Senate responsibilities occasionally interfere with his campaign schedule, forcing him to cancel or rearrange stops so he can cast votes.
But he still misses many roll calls, including half of those held this month alone. Among them was an attempt to kill a study of coastal energy resources that critics say could lead to oil derricks off North Carolina's beaches. Single-digit static The intense campaigning has not earned Edwards traction in one measure of a candidate's stature: opinion polls.
An American Research Group survey a week ago of 600 likely voters in New Hampshire had Edwards behind four opponents with 4 percent. He also pulled down 4 percent this month in a Research 2000 poll of Iowans and 7 percent in a recent South Carolina survey.
"He's still struggling," said Black, the Emory professor.
Edwards' campaign aides play down the poll numbers.
"We'll stay in the single digits all summer long because no one is paying attention to the race," said press secretary Jennifer Palmieri. "People don't know who John Edwards is, and they won't until we start running TV commercials."
Ads will air no sooner than August, she said.
Raleigh attorney Ed Turlington, who is leading Edwards' campaign, added that polls have been less important for the organization these past few months than crafting a message, lining up supporters and staffers on the ground, and amassing money that could pay off when the primaries and caucuses approach.
"The campaign has a plan that will build to a crescendo when it needs to hit a crescendo, and that's when people start voting," Turlington said.
Political observer Ferrel Guillory said even though Edwards lags in the polls, he has managed to achieve the status of "a full-fledged candidate" for president -- just five years after winning his first election.
"He is accepted as a legitimate contender, and that's a big step," said Guillory, who directs the Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill. "He's not the favorite, but it's not that he's running only for the exercise."
Should the exercise fail, Edwards has a safety net. He could register in February for re-election as senator.
Edwards refuses to discuss whether he is interested in another term, but signs suggest he could stick with the presidential quest instead.
Top aides have moved to Raleigh to work at the main headquarters, and satellite offices are being set up in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.
The campaign is promoting internships through December and asking volunteers in recent e-mail to "plan a trip" to early primary states to "lend a hand" as the elections near.
And even while tossing aside questions about the Senate job, Edwards sounds like someone who has thought more about the White House than staying on Capitol Hill.
"People will say ... 'you can do this later. You've got plenty of time,'" the 50-year-old Edwards said during a stop this month in Raleigh, referring to those who want him to postpone his bid.
"Well, I don't. I don't have time. Our state doesn't have time, and our country certainly doesn't have time."
He'll do for the country what he's done for North Carolina.
Say, other than temporarily moving to Iowa, what HAS he done for North Carolina?
But he still misses many roll calls, including half of those held this month alone.
Which is a key benefit of keeping him in the presidential race.
Aw shucks, he's the easy one to spot. He's the one that can't stop blinking.
He'll do for the country what he's done for North Carolina
That sounds like we're just another "event" on his quest for the presidency.
Why can't he do it? Loch Faircloth isn't the president and Bush will probably run a campaign to hold his seat.
They noticed him - but they don't like him. Is that because he's (kiss of death) Bill Clinton's boy??
I'm beginning to wonder. *Crinton's boy would be expected to win - no? That would mean the political death to the Hildabeast. Maybe *Bubba picked Iowa Edwards because he CAN'T win...
Who hasn't? (The inner beltway and outer beltway are one foot apart!)
That is STILL the most confusing part of Raleigh to me....inner, outer, inner, outer?
We just decided to live OUTSIDE the Outer Loop, but we're not sure if it's east or west 540.........LOL.
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