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August 05, 2006

Edwards Won the Cheney Debate

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Sorry, Ezra, but I can't stop either!  Especially when I hear people say that Edwards lost the 2004 VP debate.  The swing voters who decide elections thought quite differently.  CBS polled some uncommitted voters after the debate, and here's who they think won:


ABC asked the same people, before and after the debate, who they were going to vote for.  The results came out with Edwards moving the numbers from 51-48 Bush to 50-49 Bush.  It's hard to fault somebody for a debate where he slightly increased the number of people who wanted to vote for his ticket.  The ABC sample of all debate viewers had Cheney beating Edwards 43-35, but this is largely because 38% of the debate viewers they sampled were Republicans, while 31% were Democrats. 

While I was content with Edwards' debate performance, I certainly wasn't overjoyed.  But I have to remind myself that I, like Ezra, am a well-informed partisan Democrat.  We're not the people to whom Edwards' style is tailored.  His style is tailored to winning swing voters, many of whom are drawn in by an optimistic, culturally unthreatening, smiling face. (Remember Clinton?  Remember Reagan?)  These are the people who decide elections, and polls show that Edwards has a magnetic appeal to them. 

August 5, 2006 | Permalink


"But I have to remind myself that I, like Ezra, am a well-informed partisan Democrat. We're not the people to whom Edwards' style is tailored."

It's not just that we're partisan Democrats. It's that we're culturally and stylistically very 'blue'.

Edwards is 'blue' on substance, but deeply 'purple' culturally and stylistically.

That's why Edwards is the only living Democrat other than possibly (the still in fetal development) Barack Obama who could conceivably get upwards of 55% of the vote while running against a viable opponent.

If HRC or Gore were running in an excellent Democratic year, against a pretty weak but still viable Republican, I think they'd max out around 52% - 53% of the vote.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 5, 2006 4:22:31 PM

There are a host of issues, here, but the big one is that, among the oft-commenters here, we violently disagree about where the second geographic pillar of the party should sit. If you want it in the South, you're an Edwards partisan. If you want it in the West, the Southwest, or anywhere but the South, you hold Edwards's bio against him.

The issue isn't whether Edwards sounds "purple," but rather where he sounds purple. If the choice is between Edwards winning 55% of the electorate, with important contributions from the South, and someone else winning 52% of the electorate, with important contributions from the West and the Southwest, I'd prefer the latter. It's not clear to me that Edwards would do worse in the West and Southwest than others, but it's not clear to me that he would make any sincere efforts there at the expense of the South, either.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 5, 2006 4:47:36 PM

Did the Kerry-Edwards ticket win North Carolina in 2004?


The time for Carter-Clinton-Gore Southern Pillars passed before 2000. It may come again, but I don't see it yet on the horizon.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Aug 5, 2006 4:57:42 PM

Do those swing voters get polled, say, a week after the debate, and a month after that? I'd like to see whether their initial impressions remained steady after the spin, and how important they considered the debate in the aftermath.

Posted by: Jackmormon | Aug 5, 2006 5:16:14 PM

"If the choice is between Edwards winning 55% of the electorate, with important contributions from the South, and someone else winning 52%..."

Having a high ceiling is important for two reasons:

- It makes it easier to win a tough race - there is less 'drawing to an inside straight' necessary.

- If you have a semi-weak opponent and can win really big, it makes it much easier to enact a sweeping agenda into law.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 5, 2006 5:33:48 PM

I don't deny that Edwards won some snap polls -- but I still think he got beaten, and McCain is a far, far, far tougher opponent than Cheney is. Let's just say that Kerry proved himself a far better debater than Edwards did during that series, and McCain is probably far better than both.

I was also wondering the other day whether debate audiences are skewed -- the very nature of the contest is cerebral, long-winded, policy oriented. I wonder how representative a cross-section they attract.

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 5, 2006 6:38:54 PM

To clarify, *I* think he got beaten, I don't think voters believed the same. That said, watching him struggle against Cheney's growling authority didn't leave me comforted as to how he'd fare against McCain's much more likable gravitas.

And all this, oddly enough, comes from someone who really, really, likes John Edwards, but I guess there'll be plenty of time expound on what he's doing right later. For now I'm cowering before the unstoppable, unforgiving, merciless force that is John McCain. Resistance is futile...

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 5, 2006 6:45:33 PM

"I was also wondering the other day whether debate audiences are skewed -- the very nature of the contest is cerebral, long-winded, policy oriented. I wonder how representative a cross-section they attract."

Again, I'll strongly dissent on this point.

I think most of the audience, and especially the persuadables, are watching on a very superficial level. They're trying to "look into the candidate's soul", the way Bush thought he could do with Putin.

Absent a gaffe or hot button rhetoric, the bulk of the audience is trying to get a feel for personality. The best training for assessing Presidential debates is to spend time force feeding yourself American Idol or other reality shows.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 5, 2006 7:01:56 PM

I think the only Democrat right now who I would like to see run who really puts all the elements together for me is Wesley Clark. Stylistically, not being beholden to the South, foreign policy ability, domestic clarity, etc.

I like Edwards, but he smiles a bit too much. You may think- okay so what? I think what you don't want in 2008 is a perception that he is a lightweight. VP is one thing- President is another. People could stomack Cheney as VP, never as president.

I also think that the party has to break with the South it it ever hopes to change the political dynamics of the conservatives. I say this having come from the South, and recognizing you will never placate the Southern ego to control the rest of the country through some of its backward thinking. Democragraphically, politically, morally, I think the Democrats have to make the South come into line with the rest of the country, not the reverse. The only way this happens is if we reduce the dependency of both parties on the South. The only way that happens is if the Republicans realize they cant count on the social conversavatism of the South to win. That they actually have to moderate their position. I don't think this will change until the South as a strategy starts to lose for both parties. the democrats have already begun to realize this- I hope that the result of the Republicans starting to lose will be a shift by them toward a real center again.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 5, 2006 7:28:04 PM

I agree that Edwards' southerness is simply not as useful a thing as it was for Bill in 1992, but there are other factors that work here. And also when he was VP nom, or Gore was Pres Nom, it seemed like Southerness was just tacked on. "and he was Southern." For Clinton and Bush, Southerness was more part of who they were and explaining what they believed. I think Edwards plays Southernness into his narrative, which is why it would work better.

But this is somewhat beside the point. Defeating McCain, if he gets lucky rolls (wins the primary, war doesn't get insanely worse, media doesn't turn on him) will in fact be very very hard. I don't think anyway, even Edwards, is a sure shot against him. But I do think Edwards is way better on it than Hillary or most others.

Posted by: Tony V | Aug 5, 2006 8:13:04 PM

Ezra, you've got Cheney all wrong. That poll probably does indeed overstate how well Edwards did in the debate, but the reason for that is that people just don't like Dick Cheney.

As I posted in the other thread, people do not generally attribute gravitas or authority to Cheney. They just think he's this crazy old man, like the Sterling Hayden character in Dr Strangelove (Edwards' pick when the TNT cable channel let the candidates host their favorite movies, btw).

Posted by: kth | Aug 5, 2006 8:19:09 PM

close italic (sorry about that).

Posted by: kth | Aug 5, 2006 8:20:03 PM

I think Neil has a mancrush on Edwards.

Just a joke, Neil. Don't label me a hatemonger.

As someone without an agenda I can say Edwards got his ass handed to him in the debates. He did not understand what DOMA was(or was the DOMA mistake inb the Dem Primary debates?) and Cheney just spanked him on national TV.

Limbaugh does have influence, but he has been eclipsed by the likes of Dobson and Perkins.

Limbaugh gets about twenty million listeners a week. I don't even know who Perkins is.

McCain won't make it past the primarys, the base doesn't care for him.

Bush isn't running again, there goes a lot of the Left's 'hate vote'.

"I think the only Democrat right now who I would like to see run who really puts all the elements together for me is Wesley Clark."

HA! Wesley Clark is a clown! One night a few months ago he actually said in the same interview that A) The 1994 Clinton/North Korea nuclear deal was a good deal for the US and B)That the US had more influence over North Korea than China did. I don't feel like debating those topics, but those are two silly statements by a guy who wants to be Prez.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Aug 5, 2006 8:54:39 PM

ok, this time i'll try to close italics without previewing first.

Posted by: kth | Aug 5, 2006 8:58:34 PM

and there you go- the best endorsement that Clark could get- an idiot calling him a clown.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 5, 2006 9:16:33 PM

Clark is clown? You can say a lot of things about him, a clown is certainly not one of them. That is ridiculous on its face.

Posted by: Jambro | Aug 5, 2006 11:08:46 PM

Ezra, I'm a lot more confident about Edwards winning the whole campaign against McCain than about Edwards winning the debates. Edwards' big performance strength is the stump speech, and I think that ends up being worth more than debate skills.

I'm guessing that Edwards' 2008 debate performance will be better than his 2004 performance, anyway, because he won't be on Stephanie Cutter's leash. Good thing it wasn't under the full moon that I read about her disastrous influence in the Kerry campaign, because I might have gone wild and eaten some Democratic consultants.

kth, I went into the back room and closed your italics.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 6, 2006 12:11:13 AM

"Clark is clown? You can say a lot of things about him, a clown is certainly not one of them. That is ridiculous on its face."

He's an empty suit. He's a fraud. He tries to diferentiate himself from the other Democrats by taking un-thought out positions on issues.

He said the US should have two party talks with North Korea because we have more influence on NK than China does!?! And he claims to be a foreign policy expert?

C'mon! That's how we got in this mess to begin with(the current North Korea/nukes situation).

I bet Kim Jong Il can't wait till Clark gets elected.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Aug 6, 2006 12:12:58 AM

When Captain Toke said he didn't have an agenda, I laughed.

Posted by: Jon O. | Aug 6, 2006 4:28:01 AM

Right there with ya, Jon.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 6, 2006 4:28:39 AM

Both at the Democratic Convention and in the debate, Edwards did strike me as slightly...oh, I don't know..."ephemeral"?

I remember being struck in his acceptance speech by his demeanor during pauses: he would relax as if saving his strength for the next declaration. It was as if he couldn't sustain his passion for the full 20 minutes or so.

At the same time, I was moved by his focus on the domestic agenda--specifically, the "two americas" theme . As I said to Mrs Edwards at a campaign event here in MD, he reminded me why my parents were Democrats.

Posted by: BroD | Aug 6, 2006 8:27:25 AM

I remember being struck in his acceptance speech by his demeanor during pauses: he would relax as if saving his strength for the next declaration.

Well, television is, as a performance venue, very different from courtrooms... the pauses that allow a jury time to let points sink in and refocus attention on the counsel are just dead air in electronic media. And even in larger, live venues-- whether televised or not-- a politician/performer has to constantly draw energy from the audience or even his/her own reserves to make pauses dynamic instead of reflective and boring. Most politicians, even the better ones, are pretty lame performers, and Democrats are usually worse than Republicans.

Posted by: latts | Aug 6, 2006 10:41:30 AM

Of the options listed, the only candidate that Clark matches up against is Cheney.

And since Cheney has no chance of running that pretty much leaves Clark out in the cold.

If we look at the previous president/generals, Clark is not in the same class. Other than bringing a military voice to the discussion there is little there. Clown may be to strong but the idea of Clark as president is more than a stretch.

Posted by: m | Aug 6, 2006 10:48:35 AM

yes and a one term senator who lost his own state as VP candidate makes perfect sense- I see the logic. I also see the logic of choosing someone with a 42 percent disapproval rating in the general like HRC. i also see the logic of telling us what YOU think Clark brings to the table (b/c of course it can only be that ONE thing), and then dissing that one element that you think he brings. It's all designed to repeat the same old tired wonkish analysis of how these races run.

Here's my view: In modern presidential races- character and style are by far the most important things. Peo want a sense that when they elect someone that they can a) either drink a beer with them b) feel like they got John wayne in the office c) feel safe with them or d) some of all of the above. Stylistically- and by that I mean emotionally- they want someone they feel a connection to. They aren't looking for 100 percent agreement, they don't care about the history of general/Presidents, they don't care about all the other stuff that several people have brought up here. They care about do they connect emotionally and in terms of character with the candidate. On that criteria (and including my political views) I find the field very thin. Most people who are listed are dead on arrival in the style and character side of things. HRC is about as interestiing as paint drying on the wall. So too, I hear are Bayh, Warner etc.

The most dynamic emotional choices are Edwards, Clark and maybe Feingold. They also while moderates represent a different type of moderate. They aren't afraid to say things that piss peo off- which is fine. Because the logic is that sometimes if you aren't afraid- peo think "well at least I can respect that." I am not thinking that I am saying anything unique with the later. The point is I am using a different divider here than a) Republicans trying to bullshit us with their opinions of who we should pick or b) wonkish Democrats and/or triangulators trying to impress upon us some historical analysis or specific policies or some other equally irrelevant part of modern presidential politics.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 6, 2006 11:13:23 AM

Well since you out it like that.....

Clark qualifies under none of you four qualifications.

Perhaps Capt Toke had it right in calling him a clown.

Regardless, Clark doesn't have a chance of winning the nomination

Posted by: m | Aug 6, 2006 11:38:38 AM

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