When introducing former vice presidential candidate John Edwards at a book signing this week, a family friend mentioned a bumper sticker she'd seen around town: "Edwards-Obama." The giddy audience roared with approval.
Both Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama insist they have yet to decide whether they are running for president, but both are drawing big crowds as they follow the modern script of a White House candidate and head out on nationwide book tours. The self-promoting promenades give both an excuse to tour early 2008 primary states - without having to publicly commit to a campaign.
"Book tours have become a basic staple of the presidential process," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who has worked on several presidential campaigns. "At some level, the success of these books is a gauge and a measuring stick with how popular these candidates are with the public, as if it were a primary."
Laying the groundwork
Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in 2004 before landing a spot on Sen. John Kerry's ticket, has worked for the past two years to lay the groundwork for a second presidential bid. This month, he's on an 17city tour promoting a coffee-table collection of mini memoirs on childhood homes entitled "Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives."
Obama, meanwhile, released "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" in October. In Chicago, readers waited up to three hours in line at a book signing. After saying since his 2004 election he would serve a full six-year term in Congress, Obama acknowledged less than a week after the book came out he was considering a run for president.
Nancy Olson, a Raleigh bookstore owner who hosted Edwards at a recent signing that drew several hundred people, called the prospective tandem of Edwards and Obama "a dream ticket" that would launch Democrats back into the White House in 2008.
"It's the perfect idea," Olson said. "Obama has everything that John has (except) the experience. And he will gather that experience."
An audience member asked Edwards whether the freshman senator was his greatest literary rival.
"I think my biggest literary rival introduced me tonight," Edwards said, referring to his wife Elizabeth, who just completed a book tour promoting her own memoir - "Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers" - that chronicles her battle with breast cancer.
Edwards wrote a book about his time as a trial lawyer before his 2004 campaign, and he already has plans to edit another book for release this spring. As the head of a poverty policy research center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he's bringing together the top poverty scholars in the nation to work on a book that discusses "creative ideas to fight poverty in the 21st century."
Barack literary success
Obama, meanwhile, is enjoying the success of "The Audacity of Hope." The book is ranked No. 1 on several best-seller charts, and was the third-ranked book Wednesday on Amazon.com. Edwards' book was ranked No. 448, while his wife's - which came out in late September - was No. 496.
Obama's book is a call for a less confrontational and divisive style of politics and offers a discussion of foreign policy, economic security and religious and racial conflict. Obama began his book tour last month as congressional election campaigns reached a frenzy. As a result, he was a draw at his own book appearances as well as campaign events where he was a major fundraising attraction.
"He is a very talented, charismatic young leader in America," Edwards said of Obama. "I would love to see Sen. Obama and anyone else - Republicans or Democrats who can add in a real way to the dialogue of the campaign - run. We need the best possible human beings for the voters to choose from."
But first, it seems, they have to publish. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is rereleasing her societal analysis "It Takes a Village" in December, and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee - a possible GOP candidate - has his own political manifesto due out in January, titled "From Hope to Higher Ground."
"These days, everyone is under pressure to put out a book to distinguish themselves," Lehane said. "It's just such an important political advantage."