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Edwards Must be Prepared to Face Mr. Nice and Mr. Ice

With John Kerry’s performance in last week’s debate helping to stall the Bush campaign’s momentum going into the final month of the election, the pressure is now squarely on Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) to deliver a follow-up blow.

Democrats all across the country are breathing a little easier and will be eagerly watching the vice presidential showdown in Cleveland for signs of Edwards’ courtroom brilliance. He could sure use it against an experienced Washington insider and the reigning 2000 vice presidential debate champ, Dick Cheney.

[IMGCAP(1)] In that single encounter of the 2000 presidential campaign season, there is no doubt that Cheney beat then-Democratic VP candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.). I’ll never forget watching that debate as Cheney, who can be as cold as ice, came across as Mr. Nice.

It was clear that Lieberman, one of the most pleasant politicians on either side of the aisle, was expecting the cool, rabid attack dog to show up, but he was nowhere to be found. Thus, another Cheney appeared. He was what Bush 41 would call the “kinder and gentler” Cheney.

Edwards should expect a combination of both Cheneys to sit beside him tonight at Case Western Reserve University. There is no question that the attack dog may show up to help dig the Republican Party out from the gaping hole Bush created for the ticket in his weak debate performance last week.

Foreign policy and the war in general were supposed to be the president’s strong suit. But it was Kerry’s stellar performance, clarity on the issues and strength as a challenger that has given Democrats something to cheer about. According to recent polls, the race is a dead heat. This may force Cheney to come out swinging.

If the Republicans need to send in the snarling, angry, “F-U” Cheney tonight to boost their right wing, rank-and-file base, this could backfire. Perhaps the genial Cheney, who showed up in 2000, will re-emerge to help stop the political erosion. No matter which Cheney appears, Edwards is extremely gifted and will hold his own.

For Edwards, who has spent his entire professional career in front of juries composed of regular Americans, tonight’s debate is no different. Edwards’ clients tonight are the working poor and middle class who would like to see him take Cheney and everything he represents (powerful, well-connected, wealthy special interests) on and beat him.

I know Cheney, like Edwards, comes from humble beginnings. But, Edwards must point out that Cheney has lost touch with ordinary Americans who are working harder but taking home less pay. These Americans are losing their life savings while trying to make ends meet and send their kids to college.

Has Cheney forgotten what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck? Being in Ohio should give Edwards ample material to make his domestic, bread-and-butter case — point-by-point.

According to the Kerry campaign, since Bush and Cheney have been in office, more than 237,000 jobs have been lost in Ohio and the unemployment rate has gone up 60 percent. Outsourcing of American jobs is a major issue for these voters. Edwards should ask: “Mr. Vice President, do these families deserve four more years of the same old failed policies?”

Of course, the “H” word will come up. H as in Halliburton. So it should. As CEO of Halliburton, Cheney made millions and nobody can fault him for being rich. But, since leaving the company, he has continued to make money — more than $2 million by some estimates.

Halliburton has become a symbol of what’s wrong with the present administration, which gives special tax breaks or tax credits, government contracts and special favors to its friends and supporters while the rest of America struggles to get by. The bottom line: Don’t give Cheney any wiggle room to shore up the administration’s failed leadership on the home front.

Edwards can also score some much-needed points by continuing where Kerry left off in criticizing the administration’s failures on national security and the war in Iraq. It’s time for a reality check on Iraq as conditions worsen daily and the prospects for democratic elections grow dismal. Edwards should not hesitate to grill Cheney and force him to acknowledge that the administration has no clue, no strategy and no effective plan to end the chaos and bring stability to Iraq in the near future.

There’s no question that Cheney is one of President Bush’s most trusted advisers on issues ranging from the war on terror to energy policies. Edwards should also remind voters that as vice president, Cheney is president of the U.S. Senate. On this point, he can challenge Cheney to defend the dismal record of the GOP Congress, its lack of leadership and its extreme partisanship, most recently demonstrated by its failure to extend the assault weapons ban.

Tonight’s debate will matter because the jury is still out on the Kerry-Edwards ticket. However, I am confident that Edwards will soar and Democrats will have a little wind behind them to mobilize their supporters during the homestretch.

In the end, this is just another opportunity to hold the Republican majority, which governs with a rubber stamp in one hand and a hatchet in the other, accountable for what it has done to our country.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grassroots political consulting firm.

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