The most liberal of the so-called top-tier Democrats — those anointed early on as having a legitimate shot — Edwards appeared to be well-positioned. Having settled for being John Kerry's running mate in 2004, the former senator offered a populist platform and a strong record of attempting to help the working class and the poor. He'd also spent the previous few years trying to shore up organized labor's support. And to run his campaign, he brought in an ideological "soul mate" — David Bonior, a former congressman from Macomb County and one of the more prominent progressives in the party. We caught up with Bonior by phone last week to look back at what went wrong for Edwards, and to look ahead to how the Democratic race might play out and to what's next for Bonior.
Metro Times: Why do you think the Edwards campaign didn't attract the kind of support that would have allowed him to stay in the race?
David Bonior: I think we got caught in the vortex of excitement over the historic possibility of a woman president or an African-American president. It's very difficult to run against two celebrity candidates like that, with their stature and their ability to raise money.
I think John's populist message was one the other candidates emulated and copied, and that took away from us. We had the first proposal on universal health care, we had the first proposal on global warming, we had the most progressive tax and trade policies. He dominated on the issues, and took the party to a more progressive position. But, from a financial standpoint, and from the standpoint of press coverage, we were not able to be competitive. There were some press reports from public interest groups and others that clearly showed Obama and Clinton were getting much more coverage than Edwards was.
I think, No. 1, it is because of the celebrity nature of those candidates. Secondly, to some a lesser extent, Edwards was a threat to the corporate world, and the media is a big part of that world.
MT: We've seen in this race how candidates can use the Internet as a way to get around the mainstream media to get their message out. On the other hand, there was the YouTube clip showing Edwards combing his hair while the song "I Feel Pretty" played. How much did that and reports of the $400 haircut hurt?
Bonior: I think they did take a toll. They made it difficult for some people to take John seriously, although it shouldn't have. But the image that was created of John distracted from his message. And it made a difference.
MT: The two remaining Democrats are both more moderate than Edwards. Why do you think that says about the party?
Bonior: The Democrats and Republicans are both corporate parties. And I think that is the reason John had a difficulty within the Democratic Party, because it is a corporate-controlled party.
MT: At this point, does Edwards have any clout, either through an endorsement or the delegates he has accumulated?
Bonior: He does have some clout. He does have a good following in the country. There are people who will be looking to him, so if he does decide to endorse someone, it would have some bearing on the race, but I don't want to over-emphasize it because people do make their own decisions. Plus, there are some delegates — we even picked up a few last night [during the Super Tuesday primaries, held after Edwards had withdrawn from the race]. We have about 30 delegates, plus about 40 more super delegates [not chosen by voters], so there are 70 delegates or so, so he has a little bit of leverage left.
MT: What is the likelihood that the Democrats will go into their convention without having a candidate locked up, resulting in the kind of old-fashioned brokered convention we haven't seen for quite a while?
Bonior: I think the chance of that is pretty high.
MT: And if it does become a brokered convention, could Edwards' delegates be crucial?
Bonior: Well, yes, they could be very important. But what most people don't realize is that, under the rules of the party, the delegates are really free to operate on their own conscience. So if they want to vote for somebody else, they are free to so.
MT: So they aren't bound to a specific candidate through the first round of convention voting?
Bonior: That's right. They are kind of up for grabs. But he can still influence them.
MT: But Edwards still hasn't indicated any preference between either Obama or Clinton?
Bonior: No he hasn't. Not yet.
MT: This might sound crazy to even ask, but is there any possibility that, if there's a brokered convention and there remains a split in support between Clinton and Obama, Al Gore somehow ends up being the party's nominee?
Bonior: It's not a crazy idea. Gore did win the nomination once before. So I'd say it's an outside possibility. It's not likely, though.
MT: If you were king for a day, and could reform the process based on what you learned through this experience, are there any changes that could be made that would make it more fair?
Bonior: I know a lot of political people in Michigan don't like this, but I do like the idea of starting in Iowa, and even in New Hampshire for that matter, because an underdog candidate can still compete in those kinds of small states. In a state like California, or even in Michigan to some extent, they are such a large state, with such big media markets, people can't take the measure of you they can in those smaller states. They take their role very seriously in those states, and I think they generally do a pretty good job in Iowa and New Hampshire. If they get rid of that option, you lose the opportunity for someone like Edwards or [former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican] to emerge.
MT: When Michigan moved its primary up in an attempt to have more influence in picking a candidate, the national party — which opposed the move — retaliated by stripping the state of its delegates to the national convention. The same thing happened with Florida. Could that be significant?
Bonior: I don't know what will happen, but Michigan and Florida could be very crucial, and there could be a big floor fight at the convention over whether to seat them or not. The Democratic National Committee has already made the decision to take away the delegates. Michigan could have played an enormous role in helping select the candidate had they stayed with having a caucus or primary in February. It could have been enormously important. Now they are in a pickle, and we'll have to see what happens.
MT: What's next for you?
Bonior: Someone once told me that you should never make a life-changing decision without a tan, so I'm going to find me a beach.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org