Fri, Jul 09, 2004 - Page 9 News List

A dour Kerry picks up his pace

The Democratic presidential contender has picked a strong running mate, and millions around the world are hoping this will make up for his weaknesses

By Jonathan Freedland  /  THE GUARDIAN , London


On US television they call it "stunting": the publicity-seeking novelty aimed at luring viewers back to a series they haven't watched for months. Think cameo appearances by Brad Pitt in Friends.

On Tuesday, Senator John Kerry's campaign for the US presidency did some stunting of its own. He too introduced a new character, in the hope that Americans who hadn't tuned in for a while would pay attention once more. He announced his running mate, North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

The move will certainly achieve what TV stunts aim for: a sudden surge in viewer interest. For the next few days, the Kerry campaign will garner more coverage than it has since the winter victories in Iowa and New Hampshire that set him on the road to the Democratic nomination. That will help, but will it be enough? This, after all, is a contest whose impact will be felt around the world; the stakes could not be higher. There are millions of people, far beyond America's shores, praying for change in November. Many of them are wondering: Is John Kerry doing enough to beat President George W. Bush?

Over the next few days the signs

will be positive. Tuesday's decision was Kerry's first in the national spotlight, and he made the right one. If he had chosen either of the other two men said to be on his shortlist, we would now have

grave reason to doubt his will to win. Representative Dick Gephardt and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack would have been cosier choices; they are closer to Kerry in age and temperament. But neither would add luster or excitement to a campaign that needs both.

The boyish-looking Edwards fought Kerry well in the primary campaign, serving up the best stump speech of any candidate.

"He has vim and vigor, he's a great campaigner and a very charismatic guy," said Eli Attie, one-time aide to former president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore.

In other words, Kerry has chosen a man utterly unlike himself. The positive spin is that Edwards complements Kerry, filling in his gaps. The new man's southern roots open up a region that might otherwise be closed to New Englander Kerry. His boyish looks are an asset, too. At 51, Edwards is only nine years Kerry's junior, but compared with the grey-haired, granite-faced senator he appears a lot younger. Even Edwards' inexperience relative to the current vice-president is susceptible to a positive spin. It proves that Kerry doesn't need a tutor -- unlike Bush who, according to Attie, "needed Cheney on the ticket in 2000 to ensure he didn't screw up."

It's to Kerry's credit that he recognized all these strengths in Edwards -- for most of them reflect weaknesses in his own candidacy.

Edwards' southern geography highlights Kerry's handicap as a northeastern liberal. Not since 1960 and his hero, former president John F. Kennedy, has a candidate with that profile won the White House.

Edwards' energy on the stump is a reminder that the would-be president

can still be wooden, dour and unspontaneous. Only rarely does Kerry ad-lib enough to sound like a real person.

"He is somebody whose speech was formed in boarding schools," Stanford University linguist Geoffrey Nunberg recently told the Boston Globe. That matters for any challenger hoping to prise out Bush who, despite his own highly privileged background, has successfully cultivated a folksy, regular

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