When John Edwards set out on his first solo campaign swing last week as John Kerry's Veep choice, he showed evidence of a quiet makeover. The candidate, who during the primaries rarely attacked his opponents and then almost never by name, ripped the White House for ducking responsibility for the missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next day he said Kerry's health-care plan was "dramatically different from whatever health-care plan George Bush has; I haven't seen one yet." And Edwards insisted that while he and Kerry were meeting with average voters, "the President has been going to ticketed events, where they control who goes in."
But if Edwards is revving up his partisan rhetoric, he's also tamping down his populist style. He has stopped thrusting his thumbs wildly in the air when crowds cheer him, adopting a slower, statesmanlike one-thumb move. And while "hope," "optimism" and the "politics of the possible" are still favorites, he's dropped the "two Americas" speech that wowed Democrats during the primaries. He sometimes even skips saying he's the son of a millworker. Edwards has also learned deference. When a New Orleans woman asked him what he could do to protect her pension, he told her the campaign didn't have a specific plan but promised to "tell John we had this conversation." When you're No. 2, sometimes that's the most you can do.
--By Perry Bacon Jr.