The Obama Veepwatch, Vol. 6: John Edwards

In which Stumper examines the Democratic nominee's possible--and not-so-possible--vice-presidential picks. (Previous McCain installments: Bobby Jindal; Mitt Romney; Charlie Crist; Tim Pawlenty; Rob Portman. Previous Obama installments: Ted Strickland; Jim Webb; Wes Clark; Hillary Clinton; Kathleen Sebelius.)

Name: John Edwards
North Carolina State University (undergraduate), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (law degree)
Former one-term North Carolina senator, 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, two-time Democratic candidate for president

Source of Speculation: Edwards himself. In a interview Tuesday on NPR, reporter Guy Raz told the former White House hopeful that his presence on Obama's shortlist was "open secret" and asked whether he'd accept a vice presidential offer or take himself out of consideration, as Virginia Sen. Jim Webb did on Monday. " I don't expect to be asked, have no expectation about it at all," he said. "[But] I am prepared to seriously consider anything, anything [Obama] asks me to do for our country." : a spate of stories buzzing about a possible Obama-Edwards ticket.

Backstory: Edwards' open-door answer on NPR wasn't noteworthy in and of itself. Dispensing the usual "don't expect it, haven't pursued it" disclaimers, he sounded exactly like the rest of Obama's expectant veeps--Evan Bayh, Kathleen Sebelius, Hillary Clinton, etc. But that's the thing: until now, Edwards has consistently showed active, unbridled antipathy to the idea of reprising his role as the Democrats' vice presidential nominee . Leaving a Manhattan awards ceremony shortly after he endorsed Obama in mid-May , Edwards told a swarm of reporters, "I have no interest in running as vice president." The next morning he appeared on the Today show to address, in Matt Lauer's words, "speculation... that you would be a possible vice presidential candidate to run alongside Barack Obama." His answer? A curt "No. Won't happen." And later, in June, he told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, "I already had the privilege of running for vice president in 2004, and I won't do it again." What changed? In May, I assumed Edwards was gunning for attorney general instead. " [VP] requires months of rigorous campaigning and in the end leaves you either powerless (if you win) or further diminished (if you lose)," I wrote. "[AG] promises real pull and less public performing. For a guy who's already lost a year with his cancer-stricken wife and two young children to a second failed presidential bid, the choice seems pretty self-evident." But now that Obama's selection committee has finally launched the formal vetting process--like Webb, Edwards was likely tapped for information and documents last week--it seem he's changed his tune. That's what happens, it seems, when an ambitious man learns he might actually be asked. So game on.

Not half bad. Until this week, the biggest knock on Edwards was that he didn't seem willing to take the job. But with his hat now firmly in the ring, the North Carolinian has to rank as one of Obama's more compelling picks. Edwards's strongest selling point? He is completely and utterly safe--a factor that the unconventional Obama will value highly when making his decision, according to Stumper sources. The equation is pretty simple. With Webb out of the running, Edwards fills Obama's requisite "white Southern populist" slot and could make North Carolina and Virginia even more competitive. He has a built-in Democratic base. A poverty crusader well-versed in pocketbook policy issues like health care and trade--the key concerns this election cycle--Edwards could lead the outreach to working-class whites in, say, Ohio who are still wary of an Ivy League African-American. And given that Obama campaign manager David Plouffe recently told reporters that his boss wants someone " qualified to be president… who'll be a partner in governing" above all else, Edwards' unique background as a former presidential and vice-presidential candidate--i.e., one of the few American politicians familiar to voters mainly as a potential Commander in Chief--is especially attractive.

Viewed through the prism of "playing it safe," even Edwards' apparent weaknesses start to look like strengths. "