As Sen. John McCain looks for a new press staff, Sen. David Vitter looks for a new reputation, and all their colleagues look for a place to catch a nap (all-night session coming tonight on Iraq!), former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is seeking a fresh start on the issue he needs to own: poverty.
Edwards' "poverty tour" -- with its pointed avoidance of early-voting states -- is one of the more interesting political plays of the year. As Edwards himself admits, building a presidential campaign around poverty is, at best, a questionable political proposition; poor people are unlikely to vote, and no one likes to think of himself as poor anyway. And if the nation is primed for a voting moment on poverty, is a wealthy trial lawyer the best-positioned to ride the wave?
The tour that wraps up tomorrow is as much about reviving Edwards as it is about the plight of the nation's impoverished: If Edwards does not change his campaign's narrative -- and he remains close to becoming a permanent national punch line for his tone-deaf displays of wealth -- it's hard to make an argument that Edwards will be positioned to break through in this field.
"Please stay focused on the stories we heard" from poor workers, Edwards admonished the traveling press corps yesterday. The response, as reflected in today's news coverage: "Edwards is trying to get past all the Richie Rich stories of his $400 haircuts and 28,000-square-foot house outside Chapel Hill, N.C.," writes McClatchy's Rob Christianson.
"Edwards has been unable to make much headway in part because of a series of controversies that cast doubt on the image he has cultivated as a millionaire lawyer who as the son of a millworker understands the plight of those with less than he has," writes The Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr. ABC's Raelyn Johnson reports that Elizabeth Edwards was showing off her MBT sneakers to reporters on the plane yesterday; the shoes, which purport to reduce cellulite, retail for $245.
As for campaign poverty, that's primarily a Republican problem this cycle. The second-quarter fund-raising reports provide more evidence of the sea change that means Democrats now have greater financial resources than their GOP counterparts. Mid-way through 2007, no candidate is on better financial footing than Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has the most cash on hand (another sea change?) and the longest donor list by far.
And/but . . . it appears Obama's numbers are inflated through some "novel tactics -- like counting sales of $5 speech tickets or $4.50 Obama key chains as individual contributions -- [used] to pump up his numbers and transform grass-roots enthusiasm into more useful forms of support," David Kirkpatrick, Mike McIntire, and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "No other campaign is known to have listed paraphernalia sales as donations." What good rock star doesn't cash in on T-shirt sales at the concert?
Hmmm, lots of money, unproven viability . . . Now please welcome -- the Howard Dean comparisons! "He must turn the intense devotion of his backers into a force that can win primaries, expanding his base of support beyond the narrow band of Democratic elites who backed Dean," write Anne Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr. in The Washington Post.