Recent Headlines, And Past Statements, Harmful To Edwards’ Image

Even before the report on Bob Shrum’s new book, which portrays Edwards as a lightweight, recent headllines have been damaging to Edwards’ campaign theme. The San Francisco Chronicle reviews these stories which, regardless of one’s opinion of Edwards, must be taken as a warning of what Democrats will be up against if Edwards should win the nomination:

Democrat John Edwards has eloquently established his credentials as an advocate for the poor with a presidential campaign focused on the devastating effects of poverty in America. But the former North Carolina senator’s populist drive has hit a series of troubling land mines: a pair of $400 haircuts, a $500,000 paycheck from a hedge fund, and now a $55,000 payday for a speech on poverty to students at UC Davis.

The problem now facing the Democratic presidential candidate is whether the pileup of headlines, including the latest regarding hefty fees from university speeches reported Monday by The Chronicle, threatens to obliterate Edwards‘ dominant campaign theme. The former senator, who has been portrayed as the champion of the poor and the son of a humble mill worker, now faces the possibility that voters will have a different image: that of a millionaire trial lawyer who talks one way and lives another.

With months to go before the first primaries and caucuses, the growing perception about Edwards highlights a danger of modern presidential campaigns: In the 24/7 media environment, a few maelstroms of unconnected and unexpected headlines and images can quickly gather momentum and morph into a political storm that obliterates even a carefully crafted strategy and message.

“It’s outrageous. He’s trying to come off as Mr. Populist and Mr. ‘I’m trying to help the poor,’ and he charges $55,000 for a speaking fee? That’s ridiculous,” says Dick Rosengarten, Los Angeles-based publisher of the California Political Week newsletter. “Combined with the haircut, who’s in charge of this guy’s campaign? What are they thinking?

They note that other politicians have been harmed by unfavorable news stories, which are not always even accurate. For example, “Former Vice President Al Gore regularly was the subject of stories suggesting he was an exaggerator and often fudged facts; the theme became so prevalent that opponents accused him of boasting that he ‘invented the Internet’– a statement he never made.

The stories about Edwards could be more damaging as, unlike the slurs against Gore, they all appear true. While any one of them by themselves might be considered trivial, the combination creates a pattern which is altering public perceptions of John Edwards:

Edwards‘ political troubles began after revelations that his campaign paid $400 for a haircut, prompting GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to quip that Democrats are “spending more than John Edwards in a beauty shop.” Edwards also was rapped for his work for a hedge fund — an investment seen as catering to the super rich — and his $500,000 salary.

The criticism intensified Tuesday as conservative bloggers, commentators and opponents jumped on Edwards for charging $55,000 for a 2006 speech at UC Davis. Critics said the speech about poverty before a mostly student audience of 1,787 — who were charged more than $17 a ticket — challenges Edwards‘ campaign message and raises questions about the candidate’s judgment.

Democratic strategist Kam Kuwata said the incidents suggest sloppy message control and a tendency toward being tone deaf in the campaign — something Edwards must address immediately before it causes irreparable harm among voters in the early Democratic primaries and caucuses.

John Edwards of 2007 is also haunted by the John Edwards of 2003-4. While he now panders to the liberal blogosphere and stresses his almost born-again devotion to the anti-war movement, his past views have not been forgotten. Edwards has gained recent publicity for correctly criticizing the state of hysteria created by the Bush administration’s use of the “war on terror.” In return, conservative blogs such as Hot Air are now posting video clips of John Edwards embracing the “war on terror” in the past.

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