Edwards’ Delay Costly

Posted June 18, 2003 at 6:29pm

As Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) remains publicly undecided on whether he will simultaneously seek the presidency and re-election to his Senate seat, two prominent Democratic fundraisers are set to hold events for Rep. Richard Burr (R) prior to the June 30 deadline.

Restaurateur R.V. Owens, a prominent fundraiser in the eastern part of the state, and Charlotte banker Jim Hance will help Burr raise money for his nascent Senate bid over the next 10 days. Both helped collect funds for Democratic Senate nominee Erskine Bowles, who is poised to run for the seat if Edwards does not, in 2002. Although exact figures were not available, knowledgeable sources estimated that Hance and Owens raised several hundred thousand dollars for Bowles in the previous cycle.

Hance, the chief financial officer of Bank of America, lent his name to an invitation for a Burr fundraiser in Charlotte on June 23. Owens will play host to Burr on June 28 in Nags Head. Previously, Owens had helped broker a meeting between Burr and officials at East Carolina University.

The events will serve to pad the $2 million war chest Burr carried at the end of March and come just in time to boost his figures at a critical reporting deadline. Contributions and expenditures for April 1 to June 30 are due at the Federal Election Commission by July 15.

Neither Owens nor Hance returned a phone call seeking comment.

Because of their past work for Bowles, Hance and Owens’ decision to aid Burr has led to grumblings that Edwards’ indecision is hampering the party’s effort to hold the seat.

Most observers do not ultimately expect Edwards to seek re-election to the Senate, a notion that was strengthened by the North Carolina Senator’s impressive fundraising take over the first three months of the year. He raked in $7.4 million for his presidential effort, the most of any of the nine candidates during that time.

Some state and national Democrats are hoping Edwards quickly greenlights Bowles, former state Rep. Dan Blue and any other Democratic interested in the race, allowing them to form campaign committees and begin raising money for a race that only becomes more difficult with time.

“It would provide further clarity to the situation which would be to everyone’s benefit,” said a Democratic strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Just like a pitcher in a bullpen needs a call to get warmed up, it would be good to have people warming up in case Edwards decides to forgo the race,” the strategist added.

Paul Schumaker, a consultant for Burr, suggested the pressure being brought to bear on Edwards is more a case of “sour grapes” from his 1998 race than an attempt at preparedness.

“Edwards is not a product of the traditional North Carolina, establishment,” said Schumaker, whose candidate is certain to benefit from a protracted decision-making process. “[The establishment is] looking at it as an opportunity to wage an old battle.”

A celebrated trial lawyer, Edwards defeated D.G. Martin, a former lobbyist for the University of North Carolina in the 1998 primary and then ousted Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R) in the general election. It was Edwards’ first political campaign.

When asked after a recent town hall event in Raleigh about the possibility of allowing aspiring candidates to begin campaigning as he mulls his decision, Edwards said “that idea never occurred to me and has not been suggested to me.”

In Florida, Sen. Bob Graham (D), who is also pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, has told would-be Senate candidates to begin campaigning and raising money in the event he decides against running for re-election in 2004.

Edwards’ potential Democratic replacements were less than exercised about the timing of the Senator’s decision.

“I don’t feel it is necessarily unfair on [Edwards’] part to juggle both races while he decides what he wants to do,” said Blue. “I realize the different considerations he has to take into account.”

Blue placed second to Bowles in the 2002 Democratic primary and said he is moving around the state as he contemplates a second Senate bid.

Blue maintained that his conversations at party events throughout the state about a potential Senate race have not been hindered by Edwards’ looming presence.

“It would be a lack of common sense not to be slowly moving around and putting the pieces in place that would be essential” if Edwards chooses not to run, Blue said.

Bowles did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment. He has said previously that Edwards would need to make a final decision on the race by Labor Day in order for him to enter the open-seat contest in a strong position.

Bowles, who is independently wealthy, took 45 percent of the vote against Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) in 2002. Bowles donated nearly $7 million of his own money to that bid.

With Burr making an aggressive and so far successful play to cut into traditional Democratic money sources, public criticism of Edwards could grow in the coming days.

Burr continues apace regardless of his potential opponent, according to Schumaker.

“If you look at the history of successful Republican candidates in North Carolina, they have always had to be able to attract crossover financial support,” Schumaker said. “From a strategic standpoint it doesn’t matter whether it’s Bowles or Edwards.”