By Chuck Browder
With the majority of media focused on the primary race in Michigan this past Tuesday and Nevada this weekend, I thought this would be a opportune time to unveil the strategy Senator John Edwards will need to adopt in South Carolina before it's too late. Like Governor Romney, Edwards needs a win in the state where he was born to keep his campaign viable. In order to win in South Carolina, Edwards' campaign strategist Joe Trippi (former Howard Dean campaign manager) will need to supply his candidate with lots of ammunition. That is exactly what I intend to provide with this article. So, far be it from me to presume I know any more about campaign strategy than a seasoned veteran like Trippi, but I have yet to see the Edwards campaign use many hardcore tactics. Playing too hard can seem calculated and distasteful - and that could be the reason we haven't seen it out of Edwards yet - but those tactics are exactly what he will need to take South Carolina. (Let me state in the interest of full disclosure, that I worked on Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign, and would love nothing more than to see the former senator of my home state at the top of the Democratic ticket.)
The Edwards from '04 seemed more optimistic, moderate, and certainly less angry. So what happened to change all of this? To begin with, he seems less optimistic now because he is a seasoned candidate with a tough race behind him already. And the '04 primary and general election campaigns were very difficult, first as John Kerry's bitter rival, and later as his reluctant number two. Secondly, Edwards' positions have seemed to move further left since '04 due to rising anti-war sentiment, the apology for his vote on Iraq, and middle-class anger over corporate profits, outsourcing, gas prices, health care costs and a stressed job market. These positions, if angrier, are still within the moderate end of the Democratic Party. Edwards did not really change, other than his position on the Iraq war. Instead, the media's opinion of him changed, essentially throwing him under the bus, as Senator Joseph Biden was, when he made his "fresh and clean" remarks. I would say the Edwards campaign has endured similar treatments, and they too has been personal and not based on the substance of his platform.
Edwards and his campaign have contended with superficial personal attacks based only on prurient interest, such as the $400 haircuts and his six-million-dollar estate. Does anyone think for a minute that Governor Mitt Romney, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, or any of the any of the other top-tier candidates don't spend that kind of money on their appearance? If your answer was yes, you are even more delusional than the media who have made it their mission this election cycle to ridicule Edwards. Ask yourself, could Obama endure this level of scrutiny? Could Hillary? This may be a result of mixed messages by the Edwards campaign. Since he is the champion of the poor and middle class, the media has a problem with Edwards. Some analysts have remarked on this, chalking it up to Edwards' poverty-centered campaign being hurt by his estate and haircuts. However, the truth of the matter is far more heinous. A recent Gallup Poll reveals the embarrassingly low priority the American people have regarding the issue of poverty. Homelessness, illegal immigrants, and hunger rank at 4 percent, behind Iraq, terrorism, health care, and education. The media consistently glorifies wealth and has no incentive to back a cause that garners such little interest. After all, if there is no advertising revenue to be had, the media will refuse to cover the issue and can dismiss Edwards with baseless attacks and superficial coverage. Never mind the fact that he is a philanthropist, the founder and director for the University of North Carolina's Center on Poverty. Never mind that his agenda has substance.
Edwards will never be president if he does not win South Carolina. He and his campaign have said "two down, forty-eight to go", and that they are "in it for the long haul", but it is hard to envision a victory if he does not place first here. While no candidate who has not won Iowa or New Hampshire has gone on to win the nomination, it is still possible for him to win a majority of the delegates. In reality, Edwards has nothing to lose in this race. He likely would not run again, avoiding the labels attached to such candidates (this means you, Ralph Nader). In all likelihood, Edwards will not be on Hillary's short list for VP and will she not nominate him for a cabinet position, since it is evident from Edwards' more recent rhetoric that he has nothing but disdain for the Clintons. As for Obama, Senator John Kerry's endorsement could be the kiss of death. . . I, for one, would not expend resources against him in South Carolina, for no other reason than the remote possibility of Obama nominating Edwards for VP or a cabinet position, as a fellow agent of change. So, other than a possible future-run for North Carolina Governor, Edwards has nothing to lose by attacking Hillary in South Carolina - on all those issues where the media gives her a free ride.
Edwards needs to position himself as the candidate of change with the experience to facilitate it. One term in the U.S. Senate does not a Washington insider make. And his time serving on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee should be the experience that he cites when criticized by opponents like Hillary Clinton, who has not spent much more time in office than Edwards. The Edwards campaign also needs to make more of his time spent as co-chair of the Council on Foreign Relations task force on United States-Russian relations with another former vice presidential nominee, Congressman Jack Kemp. Also, let us not forget it was Edwards who immediately reached out to Pakistan, whose president, Pervez Musharraf then contacted him by telephone in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. We should take note: Edwards' resume is far more impressive on foreign policy than Hillary Clinton or the media are willing to admit.
Something one would expect the Edwards campaign to make more of, since he is the son of a mill-worker, is the whole 'dynasty' aspect to the Clinton campaign. If Hillary wins the nomination, you could potentially have a Bush/Clinton dynasty that spans over three decades. You would have to go back to president Reagan to find someone not related to either of these families. This co-dynasty reign could potentially continue through the year 2016 (or '24, if George P. Bush joins in), and with the two former presidents being so chummy with each other as of late, that just looks suspicious. The argument Edwards needs to make here in the upcoming South Carolina debate, is the same one I made against George W. Bush during the 2000 primary. Why in America, where we have the right to choose from anyone, from any background, do we choose to perpetuate these political dynasties? Is it that we feel inferior to the Europeans monarchies? Why would we do this when we fought the Revolutionary War over it, and the framers of the Constitution did everything to prevent it? After all, a direct product of nepotism is ineptitude and the perpetuation of the status quo. While it would be hard to make the argument that Hillary's presidency would be as inept as Dubya's has been, she most certainly would perpetuate many of the policies of the Bush and prior administrations.
Another avenue Edwards could exploit against the Clinton campaign is the affirmation by Mrs. Clinton herself that her time spent in the White House as First Lady amounts to executive experience. While her involvement and her meetings with foreign heads of state should not be diminished, there is a far greater difference in watching than executing. There are plenty of activities I have observed in great measure, football for instance. So why not put me in as a head coach, or even better yet, at quarterback. Well, maybe not. I would probably run around until I separated my shoulder, throw like a girl in the process, and sustain a season ending concussion, all in the course of a three-and-out. It is one thing to play Monday morning quarterback, it is quite another when you are the one making the tough decisions there on the field.
With Obama and Clinton receiving key endorsements, it certainly seems now more than ever that Edwards needs an attack dog. If his wife Elizabeth is up to it, she should be out there on point just like Bill Clinton is for Hillary. Another point the Edwards campaign could capitalize off of are all these old figures from the 90's White House. It is pretty hard to claim to be the advocate for 'real change' when your campaign looks like the bar they walk into on Tatooine in Star Wars, with an eccentric cast of has-beens and creeps, all looking to move in on the first piece of action they find. More needs to be made of these characters, and if not by Edwards in South Carolina, then his wife needs to do it for him. After all, the cancer card trumps the race and gender cards, any day. Here is the killer dossier on a potential relic-laden Clinton cabinet. Enjoy, and feel free to use what you like.
Bill Clinton: I'm not sure how much I would actually get into it with this one. Democrats still have a lot of nostalgia for the former president. However, there is one inroad I believe Edwards could exploit here, in regards to our trade inequity with China. Clinton signed a bill in 2000 extending permanent and normal trade status with China, but it faced a long campaign of opposition from labor, human rights and conservative groups who wanted to keep reviewing China's trade status annually. Clinton was quoted as having said, "Today we take a major step toward China's entry into the World Trade Organization and a major step toward answering some of the central challenges of this new century." That bill paved the way for China's entry into the WTO, ended the way the U.S. had been dealing with China for decades, and also managed to get us poisonous dog food, tainted toothpaste, and dangerous children's toys. At the time, critics argued that such an agreement would reward a repressive communist state, undermine the country's labor and environmental protections, and cost jobs for U.S. workers. These issues all sounded important - from international and environmental concerns to the outsourcing of manufacturing and skilled labor jobs. Sound familiar? China had to grant Americans and others the right to set up distribution points within the country and open its banking and service sectors to international competitors. As a result, U.S. loans from China are rising at an exponential rate to finance the war in Iraq and the Bush tax cuts. Already in 2008, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have turned to investors primarily from Asia for an unprecedented $21 billion bailout after HUGE quarterly losses. So China really does own your mortgage.
Sandy Berger: The Deputy National Security Adviser and Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, he is currently an unofficial adviser to the Clinton campaign, despite having had his national security clearance suspended. This man most definitely has a sordid past. In November '97, Berger paid a $23,000 civil penalty to settle conflict of interest allegations stemming from his failure to sell his stock of Amoco Corporation as ordered by the White House. Berger was advised by the White House to sell the stock in early '94. Berger said he had planned to sell the stock, but then he forgot. He denied knowingly participating in decisions in which he had a financial interest. With no evidence that Berger intended to break the law, the U.S. Justice Department determined a civil penalty was adequate for a "non-willful violation" of the conflict of interest law. This however is not his worst conduct. In '99, Berger was criticized for failing to promptly inform President Clinton of his knowledge that the People's Republic of China had managed to acquire the designs of a number of U.S. nuclear warheads. Berger was originally briefed of the espionage by the U.S. Department of Energy in April '96, but did not inform the president until July '97. However, his worst infraction was not during the Clinton years, but as an adviser to the '04 Kerry campaign. The U.S. Justice Department investigated Berger for stealing classified documents, by removing them from a National Archives reading room in October '03 prior to testifying before the 9/11 Commission. The documents were five classified copies of a single report commissioned from Richard Clarke, covering internal assessments of the Clinton administration's handling of the unsuccessful 2000 millennium attack plots. Berger eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material on April 1, 2005. Under a plea agreement, U.S. attorneys recommended a fine of $10,000 and a loss of security clearance for three years. Critics suggest Berger destroyed primary evidence revealing anti-terrorism policies and actions, and that his motive was to permanently erase one of the Clinton administration's pre-9/11 mistakes from the public record. This is nothing to laugh at from a guy who is rumored to be on Hillary's short list for National Security Adviser, assuming he is allowed to have his security clearance re-instated.
Terry McAuliffe: A fairly unremarkable former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. While he raised large amounts of money for the party, he never really delivered in any of the elections as chairman. This is probably a result of his strategy to cherry-pick states, and not run a 50-state-strategy like his successor, Howard Dean. Had he done so, states like Virginia and North Carolina may have gone to the Dems in '04. McAuliffe is currently a fund-raiser and adviser to the Clinton campaign. His resume looks like he is most likely gunning for Federal Reserve Chairman or Deputy Secretary of something in a potential Clinton administration.
Harold Ickes: Deputy White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and the son of Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under Franklin D. Roosevelt. A product of nepotism, he now heads the Media Fund, a 527 committee. Five-27's undermine the election process and are a loophole around campaign finance reform. (Since Edwards does not accept PAC money, this may be an area he wishes to exploit.) Ickes is currently an adviser to the Clinton 2008 campaign.
Bill Richardson: With his own campaign for president concluded, and currently not campaigning for nor endorsing the Clintons, he may be on the short list for VP. Richardson has foreign relations experience and was, among other things, Clinton's Secretary of Energy. During his tenure at the Energy Department, he presided over both the Wen Ho Lee nuclear espionage scandal and the California energy crisis. The roving brownouts over California resulted in billions of dollars lost in the private sector at the height of the 90's tech boom.
Wesley Clark: Another former Clinton operative rumored to be on the short list for VP, Clark has officially endorsed Hillary for president. Shilling now for her campaign further suggests that his late-entry '04 presidential campaign was an attempt by the Clintons, even back then, to sabotage Edwards in the primary. I have news for you, buddy, handling an exit strategy from Iraq or fighting the global war on terror is going to be quite a bit more difficult than peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo. If I were you, I would try and man up - weren't you once a republican?
Another note on Bill and Hillary and the war. . . Edwards should remind democratic voters that the legal precedent Bush uses to order a pre-emptive attack in a war with Iraq stems back to the rationale Bill Clinton gave for the December 16, 1998 strikes on Iraq. Those familiar with the film Wag the Dog know how well it parodied the Clinton Administration while the air-strikes, it is worth noting, were criticized by the media as an attempt by Clinton to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal. This could be fertile ground for Elizabeth Edwards to use if she chooses. Many mothers have seen their sons and daughters killed or injured in Iraq, Elizabeth Edwards lost a teenaged son in an automobile accident, over 60,000 people are killed in automobile accidents each year, and Elizabeth herself is battling a terrible illness. She can make a real, human connection with many American families, and she is a great asset for the campaign.
Edwards is a road-tested and proven candidate, having taken on the Jesse Helms machine in North Carolina and winning, and having taken on Dick Cheney as the vice-presidential nominee and surviving. Everybody knows a Hillary nomination will galvanize the Republican base like nothing else can. As of now, Edwards is the only democratic candidate who beats republican front-runners head-to-head in the polls and projections. There is also the theory that an Edwards nomination, and the subsequent media blackout between the nomination and the convention (due to his acceptance of public financing), might not be such a bad thing. With the compressed primary schedule, the general election is longer than it has ever been. A media blackout at this time might reduce the dreaded election fatigue that is sure to arise.
A recent Research 2000 poll has Edwards in a dead heat with his opponents for Saturday's Nevada Caucus. Whether or not Edwards wins here, this shows his campaign is still viable. Still, Edwards could use a boost into South Carolina, and to take his home state, he will need ammunition. I hope the campaign will use it, and I hope that I have got enough, but then again how many presidential campaigns have I lost? WhiIe I am no Bob Shrum (and who would want to be?), I do believe these tactics could garner Edwards up to 20 percent going into the South Carolina primary. I have the utmost respect for Trippi, and hold him in up to the great political strategists of our time, Karl Rove and James Carville. In 2004, Dean could have been president, had his scream not been about three decibels too loud, and that was not Trippi's fault.