Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union
To hear some Democrats, adding Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as their vice presidential candidate raises their chances greatly in the South.
"Virginia was already in play. Arkansas was already in play. Now what you have is North Carolina in play and possibly Tennessee and South Carolina. And it definitely picks up the chances of taking Florida," Max Cleland, a former Georgia senator campaigning for John Kerry, said Monday.
But some analysts and Republicans say it will take more than roots to swing the 11 Southern states, which President Bush won entirely in 2000. But Edwards grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and his wife, Elizabeth, was born in Jacksonville -- selling points for Democrats.
But Edwards must deal with Republican criticism of a liberal voting record and being labeled a trial lawyer with less than a term in the Senate. On Monday, Bush Southeast region chairman Ralph Reed noted Edwards' votes against Bush-proposed tax cuts and against a ban on so-called partial birth abortions -- while noting Kerry's record is rated more liberal.
"Voters in the South aren't looking for leaders that share their accent. They're looking for leaders that share their values," said Reed, former Christian Coalition leader, who visited Jacksonville to meet with social conservative activists Monday. "And John Edwards and John Kerry do not share the values of not only the vast majority of voters in the South, but in my opinion, the country at large."
Recent history also says running mates don't carry entire sections of the country. The last one who truly mattered for a regional vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1960, Reed said. But as Florida learned, a close election in one state can decide the presidency.
Florida is the biggest toss-up state in the South. But Arkansas and Tennessee often are considered battlegrounds because of their small Bush victory margins four years ago.
Political scientist Merle Black of Emory University said Edwards likely will help unite North Carolina Democrats to make the election more competitive. Even Reed concedes North Carolina is more of a race, though maintaining Bush will win. But Edwards likely will not sway races in other battlegrounds, where Black …