President Edwards? the Candidate's Jump to the Front of the Line

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Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

John Edwards may be the best politician of his generation. Never mind what he brings to John Kerry's campaign for president in 2004. In an astonishingly small number of extraordinarily acute political moves, Mr. Edwards has established himself as the single most likely American to occupy the Oval Office one day (and here I include Mr. Kerry).

George W. Bush was never farther from the mark than when he contemptuously dismissed Mr. Edwards in comparison with his own veep by saying, "Dick Cheney can be president." Though not quite at the level of his father's notorious "my dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than these two bozos," said of the Clinton-Gore ticket that was about to take him down in 1992, the current incumbent's remark is similarly inapposite and out of touch. Mr. Bush had better caution himself not to make the mistake that others have previously made to his benefit (and from which he is likely to benefit once again this year), namely, underestimating the opposition. Mr. Edwards is formidable with a capital F.

How exactly is it that you get to be president? The question is, I grant, on one hand ridiculous, in that there is no certain path. It's something you can set out to do, indeed, something you can spend your whole life pursuing, only to come up empty for reasons entirely out of your control. Nevertheless, the question does make a certain amount of sense when you read backward from the Oval.

Well, you need to win the general election. And in order for that to happen, you need to win the nomination of your party. And in order for that to happen, you need to be sufficiently credible as a candidate to attract support - in the form of party leaders, funders, and ultimately primary and caucus voters. And in order to establish this credibility, you need some noteworthy record of public service, usually including elective political office - though there are rare exceptions, such as Ike.

Now, what is the route to credibility as a candidate? Think back to those who have been regarded widely as credibly having sought their party's nomination. The usual route is a long political career, which often begins at the bottom with local or state office, then proceeds to office in Washington, usually first in the House and then in the Senate, and often includes an intervening or culminating stint as governor. We are typically talking about a career that includes many elections, over decades - and not all of them necessarily successful. …