Local News

Edwards Presidential Bid Must Start Strong to Succeed

Posted December 19, 2006 6:11 p.m. EST
Updated December 19, 2006 11:01 p.m. EST

— Sen. John Edwards is widely believed to be ready to run for president again. Observers say that he will be a different candidate after his 2004 experience as the vice presidential nominee.

North Carolina’s former senator is expected to kick off his second run for the presidency in New Orleans next week, then hit early caucus and primary states, including Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Edwards has his work cut out for him. The Democratic field for 2008 could include Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. That makes the big question for political observers how Edwards will make himself stand out this time around.

He's looking to build on his working-family message from 2004. He has more knowledge of how to campaign, however.

“I think he's much more accomplished. I think he's more polished,” conceded Republican strategist Marc Rotterman, a political critic of Edwards.

News & Observer political columnist Rob Christensen pointed out that Edwards is no longer the dark horse in the nation's first caucuses, which puts more eyes on him and more demands on his skills early on.

“The downside to that is that he's no longer the fresh face,” Christensen said. The former senator led by 20 points in recent Iowa polls. He needs to keep it up in Christensen's view. "John Edwards clearly has to win Iowa," he said.

Edwards keeps honing his message, concentrating more on poverty and labor unions. Once a supporter of the war in Iraq, he now opposes it.

“In a lot of ways, he's moved to the political left. He doesn't say that, but that's essentially what's happened. And he's now moving to the left of Hillary Clinton,” Christensen told WRAL.

Rotterman believes Edwards’ message is limited.

“I don't think that Edwards is doing anything really to reach out to the middle class or the average guy in this country. I think that's going to be a problem,” Rotterman said.

However, the political strategist does think storm-ravaged New Orleans could be a powerful backdrop for Edwards' presidential announcement. Rotterman sees the city’s Ninth Ward as a symbol of government mistakes.

It's been nearly three years since Edwards rose from political obscurity to prominence with a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses. In the time since losing as the eventual Democratic vice presidential candidate behind ticket-leader John Kerry, Edwards boned up on foreign policy and filed away valuable national campaign experience.

Last time, Edwards announced his run in his childhood hometown of Robbins. This time, it doesn’t appear North Carolina will be part of the kick-off. The state’s primary is rarely a factor in presidential politics because it comes so late in the election season.

And as many observers believe this run is less about where Edwards is from and more about where he's going.