The Oreo Factor

When John Edwards’ name was proposed as a running mate for John Kerry, the prospect that the younger man might steal the limelight was discussed and dismissed by the candidate. As Knight Ridder’s Tom Fitzgerald reports this morning (registration required), Kerry replied: “Don’t worry about that.”

He forgot to vet the kids.

Who ever would have thought that a bunch of trail-weary scribes would go so ga-ga over a couple of towheads? (Or, for that matter, that Andrew Jackson look-alike John Kerry and the “exotic” Teresa Heinz Kerry would turn out to be America’s Grandparents-in-waiting?)

The Los Angeles Times’ Matea Gold reports that when the Kerry and Edwards families broke bread on the evening of the vice presidential announcement, Kerry frolicked in the pool with Jack Edwards, attempting to catch the youngster as he cannonballed into the water.

Gold quotes Kerry’s adult daughter Alexandra as saying of her father: “He’s probably one of the few politicians who actually enjoys holding babies.” And then Gold allows Alexandra space to offer a deeper political meaning to the fun: “I think it comes back to a connection with a certain level of truth, that kids operate completely spontaneously.”

Oh sure, a few reporters took note of Teresa Heinz Kerry — not Elizabeth Edwards — reaching over to remove young Jack’s thumb from his mouth during a photo op. And some TV viewers, watching the youngster twirl a red and white umbrella onstage during a campaign stop, wondered aloud if a distracted Kerry might give Jack the boot.

But from a political handler’s perspective, the tightly scripted Edwards announcement could not have gone more smoothly. Today, the National Journal’s Vaughn Ververs pronounced it “perhaps the most successful veep rollout in recent presidential campaign history.” Part of that was due to the choice of Edwards. But the presence of Emma Claire and Jack (and the score of cute stories they have garnered in the past few days) gave the Kerry-Edwards ticket a second bounce, a very human face on an event the media has obsessed about for months.

As USA Today’s veteran columnist Walter Shapiro writes, when the “blended family” of John Kerry and John Edwards strolled hand-in-hand on Wednesday across the grassy meadow to officially meet the assembled press corps, “it almost seemed like a scene from The Sound of Music. In fact, a jokester in the press corps started softly singing, ‘Climb every mountain …’”

Shapiro offers an explanation for all this: “Chronicling a campaign day is akin to panning for gold. The shiny nuggets that reporters prize are those rare moments of spontaneity discovered amid the dross of synthetic sound bites and predictable partisan platitudes.”

Whether the presence of the Edwards’ kids is quite as spontaneous as Shapiro would have us believe, the media is lapping it up.

Come to think of it, maybe the kids were fully vetted.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.