"This fight has just begun," Edwards told the party faithful at Faneuil Hall as he and Sen. John Kerry accepted electoral defeat. "This campaign may end today. But the battle for you and the hardworking Americans who built this country rages on."
The first stump speech of 2008, perhaps? In some political circles, Edwards is considered a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination next go-round. He may be unemployed and even homeless in Washington --- the North Carolinian didn't seek re-election to his Senate seat, and he's selling his swanky Georgetown home --- but Edwards is hardly going away."No question about it, he is in great shape for another run," said Dan Coen, an expert on the vice presidency who followed Edwards closely during the 2004 campaign. "There's a great advantage to not being employed. He's got all the time in the world to run for president."And not being on the Hill could end up an advantage for Edwards, too, Coen said.
There'll be no voting record for the Republicans to attack, as they did so effectively with 20-year Senate veteran Kerry.Edwards, still young at 51 and a relative political newcomer, lost in the primaries and lost again with Kerry. But in the process, he won the respect of party bigwigs.
Many Democrats agree the senator with the good looks, Southern drawl and rags-to-riches biography has emerged as prime-time material. Edwards' biggest challenge, now that he is no longer in public office, will be to figure out how to keep the spotlight on himself.Edwards himself has kept mum about his political aspirations since the election. His wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with breast cancer the day he and Kerry conceded."Right now, Senator Edwards and his wife are totally focused on that," said Ed Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer who was chairman of Edwards' presidential campaign.
But Turlington is confident that Edwards' career is far from finished."John Edwards is my friend, and if he wants to run for office, I will be as involved as I can," he said. "I think he showed very well he is capable of national leadership."One possibility is the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, a post being vacated by Terry McAuliffe. That job would keep Edwards politically relevant, said Democratic consultant Brad Crone. But it would also leave Edwards with little time to prepare for another campaign.
Besides, said Turlington, Edwards has not expressed interest in the post.For the moment, Edwards, a multimillionaire, plans to finish his Senate term in January and return to North Carolina. The Edwardses purchased 100 acres near Chapel Hill and told People magazine that they want to build there. In a farewell speech to the Senate on Friday, Edwards said he cherished "God's gift" of more time to be with his family. The couple has two young children, Emma Claire, 6, and Jack, 4, and an older daughter, Cate, 22.
But again, he left the door open for the future. "It is bittersweet knowing what we've accomplished and what's been left unfinished," Edwards told his fellow lawmakers.Edwards could return to a successful career as a personal injury lawyer. He's more likely, however, to lead a policy think tank or political action committee, appear on television talk shows and travel as much as he can.
Democrats expect him to remain active in the party, raise money and continue building a higher profile."I think Americans have a snapshot of Edwards, but he has a long way to go in communicating his values and why he should be considered for a run in four years," Crone said.Being the No. 2 guy in the 2004 campaign was both help and hindrance for Edwards, said Crone. It gave him exposure, but he was forced to promote Kerry instead of himself. Edwards electrified audiences, but his populist message of two Americas divided by wealth was eclipsed by the Iraq war and other Kerry campaign issues --- a mistake, some say, on Kerry's part.
Early polls show Edwards way behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Kerry in popularity as potential 2008 contenders.A Gallup poll released Tuesday showed that a quarter of Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters preferred Clinton. Kerry finished second, with 15 percent, and Edwards came in a distant third with 7 percent.The numbers are telling but premature, Crone said.
"You could write those polls on Charmin and get better use for them," he said. "All this makes for good hyperbole, but it is just way too early to begin discussing this."Still, they are indicative of how much work lies ahead for Edwards if he wants to emerge as a Democratic front-runner.When he announced his bid for the White House in September 2003, Edwards' name was hardly a blip on the mainstream radar. He fought hard to snuff perceptions that he was little more than a charming guy and an eloquent speaker.But voters got a good look at the man who sold himself as working America's candidate. He surprised everyone with a second-place finish in Iowa.
The future brightened rapidly for Edwards.On the trail, he constantly pointed to his Southern heritage, reminding people that he grew up the son of a Carolina mill worker and asserting that he was the only Democrat in the pack who could win below the Mason-Dixon line."This guy is one of us," said Irma Merrill as she watched Edwards in Memphis last February. "We are excited to have someone so real in the race."But Edwards couldn't muster enough traction. When the Democrats were duking it out in the primaries, he didn't win anywhere save South Carolina, the state where he was born.
Southern losses for Edwards --- particularly in Georgia on March 2 --- forced him to bow out, though North Carolina gave him a symbolic win well after the nomination had been settled."It's not enough to be a Southerner anymore to win the South," said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program for Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "The last time that happened was when Jimmy Carter won. What's important for a Southerner --- more than winning in the South --- is being tested in the cauldron of Southern politics."That's what made Bill Clinton a winner, and Edwards will have to learn some of those same lessons, Guillory said."Because he was a Southerner, because he practiced centrist, moderate politics and because he learned from surviving in Southern politics, Clinton became a stronger national candidate," Guillory said. "Both the message and the messenger are important. Edwards has a good message. But he didn't win. He will have to adapt it to the temperature of the times."
Crone said Hillary Clinton has already staked out the left in the Democratic Party. But she is also seen as a polarizing figure who Edwards' supporters say would fail to broaden the party's geographic appeal.If Edwards claims the middle ground, Crone said he will have a chance to draw Southern votes. GOP gains in the region's governorships and congressional delegations have depleted the "bench" for the Democrats."There are so few, and Edwards is still there," Guillory said. "That keeps him in the game."If Edwards decides to try again, look for him to begin making appearances in the months ahead.
In the last election, Edwards was spotted in the first caucus state of Iowa as early as March 2001, not too long after President Bush had taken the oath of office."If I were him, I'd hang out, make a lot of money and have a good time," Crone said. "Oh --- and go to Iowa and New Hampshire every week." (source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)