If anyone was surprised when Kerry picked Edwards to be his running mate, I feel sorry for them. Edwards had been the top choice ever since the primaries and never got knocked down from the top of the list, even as other, bigger names were kicked around.
But more important than being the top choice since Kerry locked the democratic nomination is the fact that Edwards was by far the safest choice. Controversy, at least in a major way, has not found Mr. Edwards, the American public has little, if any, preconceived notions about the first term senator and he's a lukewarm add on to an already lukewarm ticket.
After all, there's little denying that John Kerry has done everything he can to play it safe this election. He's avoided serious controversy, has not taken a serious stance on any major issue and, despite repeatedly claiming that America is headed in the wrong direction, has yet to take a firm stance against any of Bush's popular policies. Instead, he's focused on the problems America faces (Economy, health care, terrorism, etc.) which are painfully obvious and not up for debate.
All of this has earned Kerry a reputation of being a waffler, of straddling the issues. A very fair criticism of both his recent voting on the senate floor and his various and often conflicting public stances on the issues.
There's little doubt that Kerry and Edwards are running the Ho-Hum ticket, an uninspiring, safe, lukewarm campaign that's as much interested in avoiding controversy and public hatred as it ever was in actually recruiting voters.
The question is, instead, whether or not this is actually a bad idea.
The Kerry strategists probably realized a long time ago that this isn't an election about John Kerry. It's about George W. Bush who, despite his initial promises to be a uniter and not a divider, has become one of the most divisive political figures in the history of the nation.
With Bush's approval ratings hovering just above 40% and the entire nation polarized either for or against the sitting president, (a fire further flamed by Michael Moore's latest flick, Fahrenheit 9/11) it seems all Kerry has to do is stand over to the side, look like a plausible alternative to Bush and not tick off anyone between now and November.
If this is true, the the Ho-Hum ticket, as bizarre as it is, might just be the best one to ride on. Saying little, avoiding controversy and letting Bush sink himself could turn out to be an effective campaign strategy.
This wouldn't be the first time such a strategy had been used successfully. In my home state of South Carolina, in 1998, James Hodges, a democrat in a very Republican state, unseated the extremely unpopular governor David Beasley by simply harping on what everyone agreed was wrong and offering little in the way of agendas or policies for correcting them.
Though the strategy worked wonderfully and gave Hodges the historic win, Hodges turned out to be a weak and ineffective governor and he himself was voted out four years later by Republican Mark Sanford, a charismatic "nice guy" that won popular support not so much for his policies as his likability.
If this is accurate and Kerry is intentionally running on the Ho Hum ticket, he'd do well to learn the lessons of former Governor Hodges. If elected, he can't let his intentionally weak campaign translate into being a weak leader and he needs to realize that, though playing it safe is great for unseating unpopular leaders, it doesn't work well in the face of a real challenge.
Still though, in the short run and depending on what happens to President Bush between now and November, it could be a winning strategy for 2004. As the Detroit Pistons learned earlier this year, sometimes the best way to win a battle is to let your opponent unravel themselves and, for all appearances, that seems to be what's happening.
It'll be interesting to see if that holds and, if it does, what happens to the Kerry presidency. Future political strategists and history book authors will be watching with baited breath.