In recent months little has been heard about the scandal that forced former Senator (and 2004 Democratic vice-presidential candidate) John Edwards from political life. A grand jury in North Carolina is now hearing testimony regarding the question of whether funds earmarked for his 2008 presidential campaign were diverted to pay the living expenses of Rielle Hunter, who in February 2008 gave birth to a daughter who, it is widely reported, was fathered by Edwards. I wrote about “the Edwards Zone” a number of times in 2008 at TNN, but developments since I last discussed the case have been as bizarre and murky as ever, so I’m waiting to see what comes out of the grand jury’s deliberations.
But a passage in the new book The Audacity To Win by David Plouffe is worth mentioning. Plouffe, the campaign manager who handled President Obama’s race for the White House last year, says in it that just after then-Senator Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Obama in the New Hampshire primary in January 2008, “a senior Edwards advisor” telephoned him with a remarkable offer.
The advisor pointed out that Edwards’s failure to win in Iowa (where he finished second, just ahead of Clinton but well behind Obama) or in New Hampshire made it unlikely that he would be the nominee. The advisor also observed that Clinton’s win in the Granite State had put Obama in a difficult position going into the next primary in South Carolina. He proposed a solution: that Edwards drop out of the race, endorse Obama, and be anointed by the Illinois senator as his running-mate should he receive the nomination. The two senators would then campaign jointly. The Edwards advisor argued that this would give Obama the edge in South Carolina, Edwards’s native state, and in the other Southern states on Super Tuesday, and thus guarantee him the nomination.
Plouffe took this offer to Obama, who rejected the idea. The advisor then informed Plouffe that he would approach Clinton instead, but if the notion was even presented to Hillary, no evidence has turned up so far.
Leaving aside the question of why Edwards thought he might help lead a Democratic ticket to victory in the fall when his onetime mistress was due to give birth in a few weeks after this idea was floated, the proposal had one obvious flaw. In 2004, when Edwards ran with John Kerry, it was widely trumpeted by his supporters that as a Southerner he would help win North Carolina, and perhaps Florida, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, for the Democrats. As things turned out, the whole South (and mid-South) went Republican. In 2008, Obama won Florida, Virginia and North Carolina on his own; having Joe Biden, a Pennsylvanian serving from Delaware, was no particular plus.
Obama was also probably aware of an earlier case where a presidential hopeful committed himself to a running-mate before actually being nominated (or having the nomination locked up). In 1976, just before the GOP convention got underway, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, in the hope of gaining the support of enough delegates to overtake President Gerald Ford’s lead, announced that he would select Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, regarded as a moderate-to-liberal figure, as his running-mate.
This choice generated little enthusiasm among the delegates Reagan sought, but it did upset his conservative base, with Sen. Jesse Helms urging the drafting of Sen. James Buckley to be Reagan’s running-mate instead. As a result, Reagan lost the nomination – though so narrowly that, though few liberal pundits believed it at the time, his ultimate journey to the White House was a sure bet.
For Obama to do something similar would have been a grave misstep; even if Edwards didn’t have the baggage he carried, had the Obama/Edwards ticket gone down to defeat in November 2008, it’s all but impossible that the Illinois senator would have been a viable candidate in 2012 or any time after. So, as the President looks back on 2008, he can rest assured that he made a wise choice.