Is Chet the Bet?
Fri August 22, 2008 6:35 pm

Readers may recall that I posted several items from Washington in July during a week of interviewing members of Congress. One was a discussion of Chet Edwards' prospects to become Barack Obama's vice-presidential nominee. Here is what I wrote on July 21, slightly edited:

It may seem far-fetched back home, but here in Washington there is a good case to be made for Edwards. Basically, it's this: He is a "strong national defense" Democrat. Edwards became chairman of the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee in 2007. He championed an $11.8 billion in veterans’ health care and benefits, which is billed as the largest increase in veterans funding in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, going back 77 years. The American Legion gave him its Distinguished Service Award for 2008; it goes to only one of the 535 members of Congress. These are significant credentials for a party, and a presidential nominee, that are vulnerable on the issues of national security and support for the military.

Edwards' name was entered in the vice-presidential sweepstakes by Nancy Pelosi, who encouraged Obama to consider him. They got to know each other when they had adjacent offices some years ago. Pelosi is a strong supporter of veterans' issues, which are popular with groups of swing voters such as "security moms"; being pro-vet is a way to oppose the war but "revere the warrior." Many in Washington have dismissed Pelosi's support for Edwards as simply an effort to keep the House in the game, but there is more to it than that. Edwards has always been good on television, and, while he is not as conservative as the blue dogs, he is far from a liberal. Edwards reminded me at the time that only two Democratic presidents since 1900 have been elected when there was no Southerner on the ticket--Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. True, but four of the five other Democrats to occupy the White House had southern ties: Truman was born in Missouri, a border state, and LBJ, Carter, and Clinton all came from states that were part of the Confederacy. Since Wilson was born in Virginia, the only true exception was JFK.

Edwards told me off the record that he was told that he was a serious candidate. This was not just a case of Obama throwing a bone to Pelosi. I already knew he was being vetted, because I heard it from a prominent Texas Republican (not an officeholder) whom I had run into at the Austin airport shortly before departure for Washington.

If Obama picks Edwards, the reasons will be obvious: (1) He wants a Southerner (although a lot of southerners who haven't been to Waco won't regard it as Southern--how wrong they are!); he wants somebody with a strong record on defense and veterans' issues; he wants somebody with a demonstrated appeal to Republicans (Edwards is the Democrat who occupies the most Republican congressional district in the country); and he wants a fresh face. At 57, Edwards is still quite youthful looking.

The thing that is peculiar about Edwards' candidacy is that we had heard almost nothing about him for a month--until today. Then suddenly his name was everywhere, including Huffingtonpost. It would be quite weird, not to say cruel, if Obama were merely using him as a decoy. Still, I wonder what the talking heads' reaction to Edwards will be? Won't it be a let-down? Won't the first question be whether he is prepared to be president?

Edwards should not be underrated. The Republicans come after him every election year, and he beats them every time. The brass at Fort Hood always support him. ion? Here circumstances might favor Edwards. Some of the major contenders are from red states: senators Bayh of Indiana and Webb of Virginia, and governor Sebelius of Kansas. Democrats don't want to risk losing these key positions. On the other hand, the 17th congressional district of Texas is not so crucial to the fortunes of the Democratic party. There are other possibilities out there, such the other Edwards (or is Chet the "other" Edwards?), who is from North Carolina. But John couldn't deliver his home state in 2000. Nor can Chet deliver Texas. I think, in the end, Obama will look for a bigger name, but Edwards is a serious contender.

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