Edwards gets bad reviews

May 11, 2002 

After a remarkable run of positive media treatment, U.S. Sen. John Edwards got a little roughed up this week by some of the Washington press corps.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak took the North Carolina Democrat to task for his performance on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday.

Novak, a conservative pundit, wrote that Edwards "withered under [host] Tim Russert's grilling" on a range of subjects, including peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan and President Bush's tax cut.

"Edwards showed himself unprepared for the big time," Novak wrote. "The same Democrats who had been enchanted with Edwards were appalled."

Stuart Rothenberg, a columnist for Roll Call, a newspaper widely circulated on Capitol Hill, was even harsher in his assessment of Edwards, who has been positioning himself for a 2004 presidential bid.

Rothenberg accused Edwards of "dodging and weaving on domestic issues" and mocked Edwards for repeating several times that the United States needs to "show leadership."

"Voters clearly want 'leadership' from their leaders, but repeating a phrase like a trained parakeet does not make someone a leader," Rothenberg wrote.

Rothenberg noted that Edwards has plenty of time to recover, but cautioned: "In running for the nation's top job just four years after being elected to the Senate, the North Carolina Democrat may strike too many as just another calculating politician, as a pretty boy who hopes to win his party's nomination on looks, courtroom skills and trial lawyer money -- someone with more ambition than accomplishments and maturity."

The conservative editorial page of The Washington Times picked up on the theme Friday, weighing in with this assessment of Edwards' performance: "Clearly, Mr. Edwards, whom People magazine identified as America's 'sexiest politician,' does not have the courage of his convictions -- if he has any."

Edwards' aides were quick to point out that not all assessments of his "Meet the Press" performance were negative.

In fact, earlier in the week, Chris Black, another Roll Call columnist, wrote that Edwards "put on a good show, deftly managing to avoid any mistakes without sounding as though he was hiding something, a valuable skill for a potential presidential candidate."

Edwards was also the subject of a largely unfavorable piece this week in The Economist.

"Democrats are swooning over John Edwards," the London-based magazine said. "What a pity that his philosophy is so out of date."

The magazine questioned whether Edwards could sell his "full-throated populism" to U.S. voters, given Al Gore's promotion of a similar philosophy in 2000.

"Even with nice Mr. Edwards pleading the case," The Economist said, "America may not swallow the idea that its biggest problems are caused by the corporate elite."

Dear Mr. President

Edwards was among a group of 10 Democratic senators who sent a letter to President Bush this week calling on him to expand the size and scope of peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan.

Others signing the letter included Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"A disturbing pattern of increased violence has occurred in recent weeks, which includes factional fighting, rising incidents of banditry and threats against prominent Afghan leaders," the letter says.

By Washington correspondent John Wagner, who can be reached at (202) 662-4380 or jwagner@mcclatchydc.com.

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