A John Edwards Almanac

Notes from a year with the man who would be veep

Toward the middle, Edwards hits my favorite line, where he mentions civil rights and the pundits who told him not to talk about civil rights in the South, and he says, "I'll tell you where we need to talk about it. We need to talk about it everywhere."

"Oh yeah," I say, hanging out behind a bank of TV cameras. "You got that right."

February 2004

I love you, man: Edwards
I love you, man: Edwards

I was supposed to watch the Super Bowl with John Edwards in South Carolina but I missed my nonstop flight. The lady at the counter didn't know what I was talking about.

"I'm supposed to be in Myrtle Beach," I told her, sliding my reservation across the counter. "John Kerry just won by 12 points and John Edwards fought Wesley Clark to a statistical tie. There's a blizzard in Boston and South Carolina is Edwards's last shot. It's a must-win state for him."

"We don't have you listed," she told me. "And we don't fly nonstop to Myrtle Beach."

I looked behind me at a frozen field speckled with tollbooths like fishing shacks and then the Marriott in the distance. Past the Marriott there was nothing. I was in Newark. I couldn't decide if I was running out of time or if time had already run out.

"Maybe you mean Hooters Airline," the lady at the Delta desk told me. I was wearing my white down jacket that's so dirty at this point that it could more accurately be described as ash. I look like a snowman at a gas station.

"I'd know if I was on Hooters," I told her. Then I realized I was at the wrong airport. I was supposed to be at LaGuardia. And why was I flying to Myrtle Beach when the Super Bowl party was in Charleston? And if the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers, wouldn't that be the absolute worst election-year metaphor of all time?

June 2004

In Louisiana, Edwards essentially repeats his speech from the primaries, replacing his name with Kerry's. All the local operators are here, the governor, both senators, the head of the state party. There are about 50 tables, but some are empty. Three local reporters and one from the AP ask the senator if he is going to be the vice president.

"Would you like to be the vice president?"

"I'm going to leave those deliberations to John Kerry."

"Has John Kerry talked to you about being vice president."

"As I said, I'm going to let John Kerry answer those questions."

"But if you weren't letting John Kerry answer those questions, how would you answer them?"

"As I said . . . "

None of it matters and no one cares. The reporters are uninterested in their own stories. I ask about Dick Cheney's recent statements linking Al Qaeda and Saddam.

"I'm a member of the intelligence committee," Edwards tells me. "And I can tell you he's wrong."

"Why don't you just call him a liar?" I ask.

"Why don't you do that?" Edwards says, with that boyish smile and good skin he has. He seems to think that as a journalist, I wouldn't want word to get out that I held a personal grudge against a member of the current administration, which would play right into Republican conspiracy theories about the left-wing media.

"OK," I say. "Dick Cheney's a liar."

On Edwards's way to the ballroom, I ask him whatever happened to Jennifer Palmieri, his former spokeswoman, who had assured me John Edwards was the only candidate who could beat Bush.

"She's working for John Kerry in Ohio now," he tells me.

"I liked her," I say.

"I liked her too," he replies, pausing for just a second, something that might be a memory moving across his constant smile.

Stephen Elliott's most recent novel is Happy Baby. Looking Forward to It, a book about the 2004 Democratic primaries, will be released by Picador in October.

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