Granted, it was still morning9 a.m. Eastern timebut his was the voice of a man who had rolled out of bed during allergy season. Which is what he looked like, too. There were the hooded eyes, the drawn face, the general exhaustion.
But the more the speech went on, the more he seemed to warm to the occasion. Thank the Lord. Perhaps it was the mere association with Edwards, a man of sparkle, charm and energy. Considering Kerry's principal liabilityan abiding failure to inspirethe Edwards selection might very well assist in reversing that.
George Bush presents a pretty good targethis poll numbers are falling, the war has been going badly, the deficit is mushrooming, the economy still sputtering. And yet, if we here at the Scene have heard it once, we've heard it a million times: John Kerry is a bore. How many Tennessee Democrats have slapped John Kerry bumper stickers on their cars? Who is truly crazy for the guy? Democrats here may be overwhelmingly united in their disgust for Bush, but they're not exactly exuding Kerrymania. John Kerry and Tennessee have failed to connect.
Part of the problem is that Kerry talks over voters' heads. He's ponderous. He's too Yankee. He drones on and on, substituting four words where one would do. (In his speech announcing Edwards as his running mate, he said the Kerry and Edwards families planned to get together soon "and have a chance to break bread." Come on, how about coming on over and having supper?)
The average Tennessean can probably relate pretty well to George Bush, when he's out cutting brush on his Texas ranch, or sitting in a bass boat with a spinning rod. How many Southerners, meanwhile, can relate to John Kerry when he's snowboarding in Sun Valley? Or riding around on his $3,000 bicycle? One thing Republicans viscerally understand is how to project a middle-of-the-road American personality profile. Democrats, meanwhile, look effete by comparison.
All of which is to say that John Edwards' selection is likely to yank John Kerry back into the realm of the likable. Edwards brings youth, optimism and sunshine to a candidate badly in need of it. His oratory shines. His charisma is self-evident. His Southern roots will help. It brings to mind Bill Clinton's choice of Al Gore in 1992, when, side by side, they presented a younger, more energetic, more idealistic vision of where the country should be going.
What may have been most gratifying about Kerry's selection of Edwards is that Kerry didn't screw it up. The sidekick on the ticket is not, in the end, going to win a campaign for a presidential candidate. But whom the candidate picks, and how he goes about it, says a lot about the man who does the picking. In that regard, Kerry deserves credit. He and his people didn't leak it. They didn't choose someone who would be ridiculed. They didn't opt for a "surprise" running mate who might get extra publicity in the short run. Instead, they threw out all the tangential political calculations that can sometimes cloud the decision making, and went for the best man available.
News of Edwards' selection began breaking Tuesday around 7:30 a.m. Eastern. Within one hour, the Republican National Committee had sent the Scene four e-mails, two bashing Edwards, one ripping Teresa Heinz Kerry and a fourth assaulting Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. If the measure of a person's success is the degree to which he rouses his enemy, we can say this for candidate Kerry: job well done.
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