Former Senator John Edwards suspended his presidential campaign today. There were lots of reasons for his failure to generate the support needed to keep him in the race for the Democratic nomination. But much of it comes down to having a less compelling story than the others.
When he ran for the nomination in 2004, Senator Edwards had a great tale to tell. The son of a mill worker he lifted himself up to wealth and political success through hard work and a willness to take on the big corporations on behalf of the little guys. He spoke eloquently of the two Americas: the one of the powerful and the one of the powerless. He was a product of the latter, but had proven his ability to succeed in the former. And he would put those skills to work to bring all Americans together.
In this first campaign, Senator Edwards was viewed as one of the more moderate candidates. He was passionate, but didn’t demonize his opponents. In 2008, this changed. His positions grew more liberal and his rhetoric more harsh. He didn’t just condemn corporate greed, he pronounced them evil. His new message was that he was a fighter for the poor and middle-class. He was the one willing to take on the enemy and he had the toughness to win.
This might have been a winning message in previous years, but it came up against the stories embodied by Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. She was the tough former first lady, experienced and a proven leader who offered voters a chance to make history: electing the first woman president. He was the young, charismatic change agent with a history of coalition building, inspiring rhetoric who offered voters a chance to make history: electing the first president of color. Their stories were simple. Their candidacies historic. Senator Edwards, on the other hand, was another angry candidate who promised new policies, but old politics.
Senator Edwards often complained, accurately, that he was too often marginalized by the media. That’s because the media sells stories and his wasn’t nearly as compelling as those of Senators Clinton and Obama.
Now the question is, of the two remaining candidate’s, whose story is the most compelling? And who can bring together the resources, organizational skill and political savvy to successfully use their story?