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Inside Politics

Assets, Edwards' and others'

And will the current map of battleground states hold?
Earning those hugs: John Edwards brings a lot to John Kerry as a running mate.
Watch Carlos Watson 5 p.m. ET Fridays on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports."
Carlos Watson
The Inside Edge
John Edwards
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- This week in The Inside Edge, I take a look at some of the less obvious sides of several issues.

First, some subtle points in John Edwards' favor as the newly announced running mate of John Kerry.

Then, another unexpected-help possibility.

And third, the lay of the land -- can we depend on a list of battleground states to stay the same all the way through the electoral skirmish to come?

Edwards' other assets

While conventional Democratic wisdom holds that John Edwards will contribute strong campaigning skills and some Southern appeal to this year's ticket, he may help John Kerry's team in a couple of other ways, as well.

  • First, in selecting Edwards, John Kerry is actually getting two great campaigners for the price of one. Not only is Edwards a good campaigner, but keep your eye on his wife Elizabeth (also a lawyer), who is an easygoing, affable person and a strong campaigner, herself.
  • Second, while many people have predicted that Edwards may help Kerry in the South and Midwest, don't be surprised if he proves to be an effective campaigner in the West and Southwest as well. Edwards' sunny personality and "Two Americas" message could be every bit as popular in New Mexico and Nevada as the Kerry team hopes they will be in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
  • Third, Edwards' popularity among trial lawyers (arguably one of the three most important fund-raising groups for Democrats) may help him to raise even more money from that influential group for state parties and Democrats running for the Senate. In states like Louisiana, Florida and even his native South Carolina, that extra money (to be spent on commercials and get-out-the-vote efforts) could make an important difference in a close election.
  • Fourth, in an era of photo-ops, the joint picture of the Kerry-Edwards families including Edwards' two young children may ultimately be a valuable and much-used image for the Democrats' ticket -- implicitly conveying warmth, vitality and family values. You can bet you will see this picture multiple times in the campaign -- in television ads, e-mails and more.
  • Finally, for all the ways that Edwards may help Kerry, the experience issue and his relationship with trial lawyers will be heavily scrutinized. Also, Edwards will very quickly have to prove that he can in fact be an asset in the South, particularly in his home state of North Carolina.
  • More unlikely help

    Several months ago, I wrote about the possibility of Russia playing a crucial role in President Bush's re-election campaign by helping the Bush administration secure passage of a U.N. resolution and therefore move Iraq closer to stability. (Can Russia deliver votes for Bush? )

    Sure enough, in June that happened and Russian President Vladimir Putin joined President Bush to announce the passage of a unanimous U.N. resolution on Iraq.

    As Iraq enters a new phase, instead of turning to Germany or France, President Bush may once again look to an unlikely source for international help in Iraq.

    In particular, the president may turn to the Arab world for critical support as more leaders there increasingly appreciate the risks to them of a failed Iraqi state. Last week, Jordan's King Abdullah II surprised many observers by suggesting that he would be willing to send troops to Iraq if asked. And don't be surprised in coming months to hear of new financial support for rebuilding Iraq from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and new diplomatic support (and maybe more) from Egypt.

    All three U.S. allies have played critical roles in past U.S. efforts in the Middle East, but have been largely silent during the recent engagement.

    But again, the recent Iraqi-related events in Saudi Arabia (bombings and kidnappings) have reminded many in the region of the risks to them from Iraqi instability. Also, the fact that there are now Iraqi faces to deal with, too -- instead of just L. Paul Bremer -- may make helping out in Iraq a more palatable internal political option for some Arab leaders.

    The coming realignment

    Generally, it's held that there are 17 to 19 battleground states in which the 2004 presidential election will be fought out to the bitter end. But don't be surprised to see some revisions in that list over the next two months.

    Indeed, with the selection of a Democratic VP candidate, two major party conventions, hundreds of millions of dollars in political advertising, some vigorous Senate contests, Ralph Nader's impact and changes in the economy and Iraq, the political terrain may shift by the early fall in such a way that several states that seemed "in play" come off the list -- and several that did not seem competitive begin to draw more attention.

  • In the West, Washington (for Kerry) and Arizona (for Bush) could come off the battleground list by early fall.
  • In the South, I could envision Georgia, Virginia and/or North Carolina possibly becoming more competitive for Kerry and getting added attention, but Arkansas might lean more definitively for Bush.
  • In the North, I think Maine and Delaware (only peripherally mentioned even now by some Republicans) may come off the toss-up list and move toward Kerry.
  • In the Midwest, I expect that all the toss-up states will remain on the heated battleground list as we enter the fall.
  • Finally, it's worth noting that while some states may get taken off one side's target list, it does not mean that the final contest will or will not be close.

    Witness Ohio, which was de-emphasized by Democrats at the end of the last presidential election, but turned out to be closer than either side expected (less than 4 percent).

    Keep your eye out for these critical battleground map revisions as November 2 approaches.

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