Before the last presidential election, John Edwards voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, then spent most of the actual campaign parrying attacks from antiwar outsider Howard Dean. This time around, Mr. Edwards has slipped into the role of perpetually incensed antiwar crusader, questioning the commitment of his competitors to the liberal ideals he has so unapologetically embraced.
Joe Biden’s campaign, for one, has taken note of the change. And they do not approve.
“I can’t guess at Senator Edwards’ motivation, and nor would I question it,” said Larry Rasky, senior communications director for the Biden campaign. “I just know that it seems pretty extreme and at times even irresponsible. It seems like he has decided to play Howard Dean in this election.”
Mr. Rasky also expressed doubt about the timing of Mr. Edwards’ recent attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the former Senator said was “written by insiders.”
“It’s not shocking that today we are at the A.F.L.-C.I.O. gathering and suddenly there is a story about Senator Edwards pushing hard for labor’s position on trade in the newspaper,” said Mr. Rasky. He was referring to a labor forum on the night of Aug. 7 in Chicago. “But I don’t think people are that easily fooled. Sooner or later they will look at your record. They look at the results you have achieved over the course of your career. Have you been consistent on their positions?”
He also said that Mr. Edwards’ efforts to outflank his competitors on the ideological left would harm the party’s chances in the general election. “Historically, my feeling is that Democrats have lost elections by pandering in the primary and being outpositioned in the general,” he said. “It seems to me that Senator Edwards is trying to take extreme positions to gain short-term advantage in the primary. That’s not a position that Senator Biden wants to find himself as the party’s nominee.”
And Mr. Rasky suggested that it was somewhat hypocritical for Mr. Edwards to set himself up as an advocate for the poor while earning enormous consulting fees and political contributions, as Mr. Edwards has, from his work with a hedge fund.
“You can’t take contributions and compensation from well-heeled money interests,” said Mr. Rasky, “and then expect to go on an anti-poverty campaign and not have people see through it.”
The analogy to the Dean campaign, if not the questioning of Mr. Edwards’ motives and timing, is hardly a stretch. Like Dr. Dean in 2004, Mr. Edwards has won plaudits from the party’s influential Netroots by railing ceaselessly against lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and of course, the “mainstream media.” (“They want to shut me up,” Mr. Edwards said recently, without specifying who “they” might be.)
He has hired as a senior strategist Joe Trippi, who is credited with masterminding the innovative, if ultimately unsuccessful, Dean campaign, and who has taken an increasingly prominent role in the Edwards campaign. And Mr. Edwards is on his way to becoming something of a folk hero among liberal bloggers and activists—receiving an enormous hand at Saturday’s Daily Kos convention when he said that his wife, Elizabeth, would be the White House blogger.
Colleen Murray, a spokeswoman for the Edwards campaign, responded angrily to Mr. Rasky’s remarks.
“It’s an insult to Governor Dean, millions of online activists, and all Democrats to suggest that fighting for universal health care, raising the minimum wage and ending the war in Iraq is ‘pandering’ or ‘irresponsible’ in any way, and Rasky should know better,” she said in an e-mail.
She pointed out that his position to renegotiate NAFTA but not scrap it completely is consistent with what he has argued in the past.
Ms. Murray also said, “Evidently, Larry Rasky, Senator Biden’s communications director, has left the building if he thinks the only people who can advocate for the poor are the poor themselves. John Edwards has been fortunate, and he will not apologize for that, but he has also dedicated his life to alleviating poverty in America, and no candidate in this race has fought harder on behalf of the 37 million Americans living in poverty. And I have no doubt Senator Biden would agree with that.”