This is not a dream ticket for the Democrats

Kerry's campaign is alive, but not yet kicking with the confidence essential to any victorious run
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The Independent Online

Democrats across the United States will have sighed with relief at yesterday's early-morning announcement that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is to be John Kerry's running mate. They might even have allowed themselves a modest frisson of excitement. John Edwards generated enthusiasm on his all too brief stretch of the Democrats' primary campaign trail. He is a persuasive speaker with good lines in rhetoric, and he has an almost Clintonian life-story to tell - with vastly more money at the end of it, and fewer risky escapades en route. With his nomination, the Kerry campaign is at least still alive.

Democrats across the United States will have sighed with relief at yesterday's early-morning announcement that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is to be John Kerry's running mate. They might even have allowed themselves a modest frisson of excitement. John Edwards generated enthusiasm on his all too brief stretch of the Democrats' primary campaign trail. He is a persuasive speaker with good lines in rhetoric, and he has an almost Clintonian life-story to tell - with vastly more money at the end of it, and fewer risky escapades en route. With his nomination, the Kerry campaign is at least still alive.

But it is only alive, it is not yet kicking with the confidence that is essential to any victorious run. That the name of John Edwards has not injected an instant magic ingredient is a reflection less on him than on the mental wish-list that rank-and-file Democrats had drawn up. At the top of this list was Senator John McCain of Arizona, whose candidacy had ignited the early 2000 Republican primaries, and whose criticism of how the Iraq venture was conducted makes him a newly poisoned thorn in George Bush's side.

A Kerry-McCain alliance was the ultimate dream ticket: a double dose of military heroism to take on a president who cast himself as a war leader by choice; a sober northerner and a fiery Westerner to reinforce each other; a Democrat and a Republican offering national unity where George Bush had sown division. The combination was so perfect, held such potential for triumph, that many persuaded themselves it could happen. It could not.

The other tempting prospect was so out of reach as to be hardly mentionable. Might Hillary perhaps be convinced to run? Victorious, she would be well-placed for the presidential contest four or eight years hence; defeated, she could notch up the experience as a valuable rehearsal. Already a star, though, she had no need to be a running mate. Wisely, she gave no one grounds for hope and will remain in the Senate.

Of all the other possible nominees, Mr Kerry has undoubtedly selected the one best equipped for his purpose. Mr Edwards is the only candidate who can enliven his campaign and help him to victory. The others - Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean - were either too boring or too excitable. Mr Kerry could afford neither. Mr Edwards is the classic complementary candidate. He brings the hospitable warmth of the south to offset the chilliness of Mr Kerry's north-eastern manners. A self-made millionaire, his career balances Mr Kerry's patrician New England privilege; a natural orator and instinctive politician, his spontaneity could help disguise Mr Kerry's stilted reserve.

Senator Edwards was, from the start, such an obvious complement to John Kerry that it was almost as though he was looking for reasons not to choose him. And there were at least two: rumours that Al Gore had rejected John Edwards as a running mate four years ago because of some never-identified skeleton in his closet, and fears that the younger, more telegenic Edwards could outshine the candidate himself. Mr Edwards' career as a trial lawyer - a very unpopular species with business because of its penchant for high-paying liability lawsuits - was also considered a possible disadvantage, even though business is hardly the Democrats' biggest constituency. It is to Mr Kerry's credit that he settled on John Edwards after all.

As Mr Kerry chose his man, so he also chose his moment. His campaign has languished in recent weeks. Latest polls have suggested that, while just ahead, he has not pulled away from George Bush, despite the continuing casualties in Iraq and the flow of embarrassing questions about the war. Well before the 4 July holiday, many Bush-haters, and even many convinced Democrats - not necessarily the same thing - were asking whether Mr Kerry had the charisma, energy and killer instinct that he will need if he is to have a chance against George Bush.

So it was an astute move by the Kerry campaign to time the announcement about a running-mate so soon after the holiday. Democrats needed to be woken up before resignation set in; they needed to know John Kerry could deliver a surprise. Yesterday brought a little of both. And while common wisdom has it that the choice of running-mate has little or no bearing on the result of the race, this has not always been true.

Four years ago George Bush's choice of Dick Cheney lent his campaign a solidity and depth of experience it sorely lacked - strange though that judgement may ring now. Mr Cheney's reputation may even have clinched those 300 or so Florida votes that sealed Mr Bush's victory. The promise of John Edwards is similar, except that it is populism and glitz, not solidity, that he needs to add. How well the two men operate as a team will start to be apparent today when they hold their first rally together. As sometimes happens with the more awkward public performers, Mr Kerry already seemed more relaxed yesterday in the knowledge that he was no longer alone.

Kerry-Edwards is not the dream ticket. The question is whether a winning campaign can ever start with the lukewarm verdict that the candidate's choice of running mate could have been a great deal worse.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

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