Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY AND EDWARDS AGAIN....This is just some offhand weekend musing, so don't take it too seriously. But I've been thinking about whether John Edwards is likely to be John Kerry's vice presidential choice.

A couple of days ago I suggested that presidential candidates didn't usually choose one of their losing primary opponents as a running mate. Mark Schmitt sort of agreed, but noted that unlike most primary losers, who come out of the campaign looking bruised and defeated, Edwards has come out looking great. So he's a more attractive choice than most.

Oddly, though, I think that might actually make Edwards less likely to get chosen. Let's follow this argument down the rabbit hole and see where it leads.

One of the persistent press memes during the primary campaign was that Edwards was actually running for vice president. I think he got asked this question at least as often as Hillary got asked if she was running for president, and in both cases it just didn't matter how often or in how many different ways they said no.

But I never believed this for a second. Nobody runs for vice president. The vice presidency may not be quite as worthless as a bucket of warm spit, but there's no way that anyone covets it so much that they're willing to go through the tremendously long and grueling slog of a presidential campaign just to get it.

No, what I always figured was that Edwards was indeed running for president in 2008. Consider the conventional wisdom on Edwards: great on the stump, good money raiser, personally appealing, a Southerner, and a nice blend of populist/liberal. Only one drawback: not ready for prime time.

In 2008, however, he retains all those qualities but adds the gray hairs he needs to make him a truly great candidate. 2004 was just a test run, a way of getting some experience and some name recognition.

So: would Edwards even want to be Kerry's vice president? Only if it helps him become president in 2008. If Kerry wins, of course, it doesn't, but if Kerry loses it might not help either. Sure, it would add to his name recognition, but it also makes him damaged goods. After all, when was the last time a losing VP candidate went on to become president? Never in modern history.

And then there's the flip side: would Kerry want Edwards? Obviously Edwards has a lot going for him, but aside from conventional calculations about whether Edwards would help him in important states, you have to figure that Kerry might harbor a few doubts about Edwards' dedication to the cause. Would Edwards really want Kerry to win? Or would he be just as happy to see him lose and leave the field wide open for another Edwards run in 2008?

Now, none of this may have any truth to it. Who knows? But true or not, you have to figure that it leaves some gnawing doubts in Kerry's mind. He wants someone who's with him 100%, not someone who deep in his heart might be just as happy to lose.

And this might also explain the more general case: presidential candidates don't really want running mates who are too obviously interested in the top job. And who's more obviously interested in the top job than all the guys you just beat?

POSTSCRIPT: For what it's worth, there's only been one losing VP candidate who's gone on to win the presidency in the past century: FDR. And it's worth noting that while he (of course) campaigned vigorously, it was pretty obvious afterward that he wasn't really very broken up about losing....

Kevin Drum 3:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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