Edwards for DNC Chairman

Posted November 10, 2004 at 10:53am

I hereby volunteer to lead the John Edwards for Democratic National Committee Chairman movement.

I know. The North Carolina Senator, who will be out of work soon and needs to remain visible over the next two years if he is going to mount another presidential bid in 2008, doesn’t seem interested in the job.[IMGCAP(1)]

When I mentioned the chairmanship to a Democrat close to Edwards, the reaction wasn’t just guarded, it was dismissive. You would have thought I suggested that Edwards get a job selling shoes at Wal-Mart.

The Senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee, we hear, is more interested in policy than politics. He wants to bolster his résumé by emphasizing substance and expertise, and he can better do that by associating himself with an interest group or big issue.

All of that is true, but more than anything else the outgoing North Carolinian needs to keep himself in the public eye, and running the DNC — and taking on President Bush and the Republican Congress at every turn — would surely do that.

Face it, Edwards must struggle to stay relevant without an elective office. He can try to become a party spokesman, possibly looking for a regular media gig to give himself a platform.

And, of course, he can run around the country attending county and state party fundraisers for a year or so. Then he can spend another year helping 2006 Democratic Congressional candidates raise money.

But will that keep Edwards enough in the public eye? Maybe, maybe not. But chairing the DNC and being in a position to challenge every one of the president’s decisions would.

More than a few Democrats wouldn’t like the idea of Edwards signing up to run the DNC for two years. That platform would clearly work to his advantage in the race for the 2008 nomination, and supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and other potential Democratic hopefuls wouldn’t want that.

But Edwards would bring so much to the table that DNC members ought not dismiss him out of hand as a potential chairman.

As a recent national candidate, he’s instantly credible as party chairman. He also has the kinds of fundraising contacts that are invaluable. And Edwards’ Southern accent would be an asset, even if he couldn’t help Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) carry even a single Southern state this year. He’s a personable, likable guy, an important asset for the minority party.

The Senator’s debating skills would come in handy, especially on all those TV shows where he’d be asked to perform. Given the party’s Congressional leaders (Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and California Rep. Nancy Pelosi), Edwards would likely get plenty of opportunity to make the Democrats’ case against Bush and Congressional Republicans.

Edwards’ strength is domestic issues, not international concerns. And that’s where the Democrats need to focus, since it continues to be their greatest strength.

True, Edwards won’t help his international experience by taking a party job, but unless he volunteers for duty in Iraq, he isn’t likely to become an expert in military or national security matters over the next 24 months.

Edwards and those close to him may be dismissing the DNC chairmanship as a step down for a one-time vice presidential nominee. The last presidential contender to think that way was Republican Dan Quayle, who turned down entreaties to run for governor of Arizona as a way to resuscitate his career. He rejected the idea and has since faded into the woodwork.

Edwards doesn’t have Quayle’s problems, but he too must figure out a way to compete with Clinton, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and even Kerry for media attention over the next two years. The DNC is a good fit for Edwards and for his party.

Do I really think it could happen? Probably not. But it’s still a perfect fit.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.