Graham's heart surgery may help Edwards' campaign


Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., speaks to the media at the scene of a Thursday explosion at West Pharmaceuticals in Kinston, N.C. An explosion at the plant on Wednesday killed three people and injured 37 others.

(AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Patrick Schneide
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 12:29 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Sen. Bob Graham went under the knife on Friday to have a heart valve replaced. Sen. John Edwards went on the campaign trail.
That difference between Graham, a 66-year-old Florida Democrat who is considering a run for president, and Edwards, who at 49 already is in the hunt, could play a role in jockeying for the Democratic nomination.
Graham insisted last week that he is "prepared to lead and most able to win" despite the heart surgery that will keep him off his feet for at least two weeks and on limited duty into March. Some analysts say Edwards could benefit from Graham entering the race.
"Anything that these third-tier, unknown candidates can do to distinguish themselves from the crowd is useful," said William Sabo, a political science teacher at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. "It's clearly the youthful dynamism that is Edwards' strong suit right now. . . . The key is perception."
Graham, who postponed announcing his candidacy from early February because of the heart problem, and Edwards are the only two likely or declared candidates from the South. Analysts say that could be significant as party leaders weigh the need for a candidate at the top or bottom of the 2004 ticket who speaks to voters from a region that is big on the electoral map.
Graham, a two-term former governor elected to the Senate in 1986 and the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has far more experience than Edwards. That puts him ahead in the minds of many observers, but the announcement two weeks ago that he needed heart surgery has raised questions about his chances.
Edwards, a former trial lawyer in his first term as an elected official, is known for his youthful appearance and as an articulate speaker. Now Edwards, an avid runner, has an edge over Graham on health.
"I think health is a serious issue when you're running to the top of the ticket," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. She said that even though Graham is expected to recover well from a procedure that is relatively common, it could have an effect.
The situation recalls other candidates with heart problems.
On one hand, voters didn't seem to mind that George W. Bush's vice presidential pick in 2000, Dick Cheney, had heart problems.
But Bill Bradley's campaign for the 2000 Democratic nomination hit a snag when an irregular heart rhythm forced Bradley off the campaign trail briefly in late 1999. He was fine after treatment but wasn't able to recover politically and eventually dropped out.
In Edwards' case, Bradley's experience could come in handy. Ed Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer who was a deputy campaign manager for Bradley, is a chief adviser to Edwards as he vies for the party nod against five other declared candidates and possibly Graham.
"Just as he was beginning to get known, the first thing many people heard about him was he had an irregular heartbeat instead of hearing his idea of how all Americans can have health insurance," Turlington recalled of the Bradley campaign. "That obviously was not helpful. Was it outcome-determinative? No, I don't think so. What it was was a bump in the road."
Turlington brushed aside suggestions that Graham's condition gives Edwards political opportunities. Edwards simply said he wished Graham the best.
But MacManus said having a former Bradley campaign operative in his camp could be useful to Edwards in subtle ways during a race in which slight edges can cut in a crowded field.
"Surely they're bound to be sensitive to whom that makes a difference and how you take advantage of it," she said.
Graham is expected to decide in early March. If he chooses to run, many consider that he will join Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts as the top candidates.
Graham could siphon votes from Lieberman and Kerry during the primaries. Sabo said that's the best thing that could happen to Edwards during the early primaries, when he must score surprising finishes.
"Edwards will profit from another big name candidate because that tends to create a logjam at the top, meaning there's no clear favorite, which gives the third-tier candidates a chance," he said.
The other declared candidates are Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the former House minority leader, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

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