John Edwards never pinned a “voodoo economics” label on any of John Kerry’s proposals as George H.W. Bush did to Ronald Reagan’s economic plan in 1980, but Republicans still are using the primary battle between two Democrats as ammunition for the fall campaign.
Within minutes of Edwards’ selection Tuesday as Kerry’s running mate, Republicans released 20 pages of unflattering things the two said about each other during the primaries. They also issued a separate, 38-page document — much of it repeated from dossiers the GOP first released when Edwards ran for president — that resurrects charges from Edwards’ 1998 Senate campaign and depicts his voting record as among the most liberal in the Senate.
“A disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and a friend to personal injury trial lawyers,” said the documents, which the Republican National Committee posted on a specially created Web site.
While Kerry and Edwards criticized each other over health care, taxes, trade, special interest money and other issues during the primaries, their rhetoric never reached the level of Bush’s “voodoo economics” quip in 1980. That label stuck throughout the campaign, and Jimmy Carter even used it during one of his nationally televised debates with Reagan.
Kerry questioned Edwards' experience
The hottest it got was when Kerry questioned Edwards’ military and foreign policy experience. “When I came home from Vietnam in 1969,” Kerry said in January, “I don’t know if John Edwards was out of diapers then yet or not.”
The Kerry campaign moved quickly to tackle the inexperience issue. Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Edwards, a one-term senator, “brings a great deal to the table and actually more than the current president did when he was elected in 2000.”
Emory University political scientist Merle Black said the primary campaign rhetoric likely won’t cause much of a problem for the Democratic ticket, despite Republican efforts to highlight it.
“Kerry has solved that problem by hiring the lawyer,” he said. “He’s made the guy his lawyer, and he will deliver the Kerry message better than Kerry himself probably could.”
A potentially more serious problem for Democrats is the GOP attempt to undercut Edwards’ populist message by resurrecting charges from his 1998 Senate campaign that he used a tax loophole to avoid paying $290,000 in Medicare taxes.
Described as ‘phony and disingenuous’ populist
They also are emphasizing his personal wealth — $38 million by one account — his $3 million sale last year of his home in Washington, his highly successful fund-raising in Los Angeles and Hollywood, and his failure to pay some property taxes on time — all evidence of what the GOP calls a “phony and disingenuous” populist.
The Kerry campaign dismissed the charges as “recycled negative attacks.”
“Instead of offering solutions to the problems facing the country here at home or plans to make our troops safer overseas, all Republicans could do was to throw their same old attacks out against the Kerry-Edwards ticket,” said campaign spokesman David Ginsberg.
Edwards, a highly successful trial lawyer, set up a professional corporation in 1995, with himself as the sole director and stockholder. In 1996 and 1997, he collected $10 million in dividends from the corporation, and more than $1 million in salary from his law firm.
Since Medicare taxes are not paid on dividends, Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth charged in campaign ads just before the 1998 election that Edwards had used the corporation to avoid $290,000 in taxes.
Edwards did not dispute the facts, but called the tax avoidance charge “absolutely false.” He said he had paid “every dime of Medicare taxes I owe and am required to pay by law.”
Ad claims called ‘stretching the truth’
Republicans also are recycling attacks on Edwards’ truthfulness. They note Edwards’ claim in 1998 campaign ads that he worked his way through college loading trucks for United Parcel Service, when he worked only six months in that job. When a newspaper report challenged the claim, Edwards defended it by saying it was the longest job he had held in college. He later dropped the reference from his ads, a move Faircloth’s campaign said was proof he had misled voters.
Edwards’ 1998 campaign literature also said he had graduated summa cum laude from North Carolina State University in 1974, although the university didn’t use such Latin honors at the time. Edwards graduated with a 3.69 grade point average out of 4.0. Republicans called it “stretching the truth to make a dramatic point.” Edwards blamed a campaign mistake.
“I can make a heck of an argument that this is all nitpicking,” Edwards said at the time.