The Man from Robbins

Senator Edwards’ first in a series of New Hampshire town hall meetings went just swell last night, despite the sauna conditions in the room; the presence of former Republican state party chair Chuck McGee (who has an impressive ability to keep his hand raised); the aggressive efforts of the Citizens for a Sound Economy (whose shark-suited man behind Edwards at one point was about as good as it gets in political hijinks); and an inordinate focus on what The Note would call non-kitchen-table issues from the questioners.

Above and beyond all those kinks, the crowd was huge (The political press is horrid at crowd count, but there were somewhere between 100 and 180 people there.), and this format clearly plays to Mr. Edwards’ strength.

But for whatever cosmic reason, the New York Times , the New Hampshire papers, and the North Carolina papers decided to use the Senator’s speech on corporate responsibility and the town meeting as pegs to pound him.

Yesterday, the Edwards campaign put out a press release headlined “South Carolinians Continue to Line Up Behind John Edwards for President.”

Today, the New York Times ‘ David Halfbinger has a story which could have been headlined “Senator Edwards Needs More North Carolinians to Line Up Behind Him.”

Halbinger trotted aside Senator Edwards on Wrightsville Beach and came away with one of the first, extended blind quotes from a veritable “Democrat familiar with Mr. Bowles’s thinking.” LINK

That is, of course, Erskine Bowles, who very much wants Senator Edwards to make up his darned mind about running for the Senate or running for president.

“‘As much as he is loyal to Edwards, every week that goes by that he’s unable to engage fully in the campaign, he sees as a disadvantage,’ said one Democrat familiar with Mr. Bowles’s thinking. ‘He’s a former White House chief of staff, he’s got a record of getting things done, and he wants to do this. He’s not likely to sit around waiting for long for someone else to make a decision.'”

“The tension between the two, who are friends and have supported each other’s campaigns, is likely only to grow: Mr. Edwards’s loyalists say that Mr. Bowles received the lowest percentage of any Democratic Senate candidate in generations, while Mr. Bowles’s note that he also got more votes than Mr. Edwards did.”

Halfbinger concludes that the anxiety about Edwards’s true intentions are hurting him in the state; many of constituents admire him as their Senator but are puzzled by his presidential run, which they appear to regard as a distraction.

“‘He needs to decide,’ said Brick McDermott, 26, a mortgage broker from Charlotte who was relaxing in the sand when Mr. Edwards walked by and said hello. “‘Having it both ways right now — that isn’t working.'”

“The senator clearly does not agree and is sticking to his own timetable for his decision. ‘It’s going to depend on what I think is best for North Carolina and what the dynamic is in the presidential campaign,’ he told the reporters trailing him.'”

As that drama plays out, the coverage keying off of yesterday was — and there is no other way to describe it — negative.

Edwards could not have been happy when he saw this headline: “N.H. voters puzzled by Edwards’ campaign.”

Mark Johnson’s story for the Charlotte Observer indicates that many believe the Senator from North Carolina is not living up to his potential as a presidential candidate. LINK

“Edwards already proved himself as a fund-raiser, siphoning up $12 million this year to put him second among the candidates’ bank accounts. His numbers in name recognition and apparent public support in New Hampshire, however, remain anemic.”

“‘Where’s he from?’ asked Dan Samodai, a Concord auto parts dealer, when asked about Edwards outside the state Capitol. Samodai paused from reading the Daniel Webster statue inscription to his 4-year-old son, Cameron, and said he has seen ‘a ton’ of advertising on the presidential bid of Senator John Kerry, from neighboring Massachusetts. ‘I don’t know if he’s going for the saturation thing or what, but everywhere you turn it’s “Kerry.”‘”

The seminal quote, though, comes from the Young Man of the Mountain Top: “‘He hasn’t been here a lot,’ said James Pindell, who runs the politicsNH.com Web site. ‘He needs the buzz in this state. It’s really been a Kerry and (former Vermont Gov. Howard) Dean show.'”

John Wagner of the Raleigh News & Observer gets Pindell in a slightly more hopeful, reflective moment:

“‘New Hampshire activists are saying it’s now put-up or shut-up time for John Edwards,’ said James Pindell, managing editor of PoliticsNH.com, a Web site that is closely tracking the state’s Democratic primary process. ‘Edwards has a lot riding on these next couple of months. It’s a critical time for him.'” LINK

“Entering a new phase in his campaign, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards began a series of town hall meetings focusing on broader audiences than just those that turn out for house parties in activists homes,” PoliticsNH.com’s Pindell himself, switching from pundit to writer, reports:

“Up until today Edwards said his campaign mainly focused on fund-raising, but now, a week after the second quarter of the year has finished, he has embarked on a full-fledged campaign schedule starting with 11 town hall meetings in the Granite State and a number of downtown walks in Iowa.”

“It’s about time. Edwards has never received more than single-digit support in polls of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina Democrats. The same is true of Democrats nationwide.”

“Rival campaigns saw the town hall meetings [as] risky for Edwards. Why, they would argue, would Edwards attempt to hold town hall meetings in the summer, when less than 10 percent of voters are paying attention, and when he seems to have such small support in polls? His campaign staff had spent the last two weeks non-stop on the initial town hall meeting with phone call reminders and dropping literature with the date and time in traditional Democratic neighborhoods in and around Concord, the site of the event.”

“But it appears as though the Edwards campaign actually pulled it off. A crowd of 150 showed up to hear the North Carolina senator, although a number of them were activists or staff for various advocacy groups in the state. He was asked about everything from farm policy to software piracy to global warming to prescription drugs to stem cell research to gay marriage.”

John DiStaso led with the foreign origin of the pair of shoes Senator Edwards purchased. LINK

The AP’s Ramer kept her eyes off of Hunter long enough to focus on the lunch speech and write about Edwards’s expense the stock options proposal: LINK

And Ramer beat us to the punch by Noting this: “Despite his weak numbers in New Hampshire polls, Edwards did pass one local test. A Rotary Club member asked him to repeat three words in a New England accent: park, garden and Nomar, as in Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.”

“‘Pahhhk. Gahhhden. Nomahhh,’ Edwards enunciated dutifully.”

The Boston Globe gave Edwards his own story, too. LINK

The Note may have caused some inadvertent shockwaves between North Carolina and Washington yesterday when we mistakenly Noted Tim Funk’s Charlotte Observer story about Senator Edwards’ 2003 Roll Call votes attendance record.

We said Mr. Funk reported that Senator Edwards had missed 47 percent of his votes. However, the Observer properly reported that the senior senator from North Carolina has missed 47 actual Roll Call votes … which is only 18% of the year’s total.

The mistake was entirely ours, not Mr. Funk’s. We apologize for any confusion caused and we promise to leave the harder mathematical reporting (i.e. percentages vs. actuals) to the Googling monkeys and remove all chance of human error.

Though, we have to say, we don’t feel quite as bad after reading the first correction in The Paper of Record: LINK

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