Four in the Fore­front

The de­par­ture of John Ed­wards and Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani brings the pres­i­den­tial race into fo­cus.

The Washington Post - - Letters To The Editor -

AONCE-MUD­DLED pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has sorted it­self out with sur­pris­ing speed in re­cent days. For­mer North Carolina sen­a­tor John Ed­wards dropped out of the Demo­cratic race yes­ter­day, while for­mer New York mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani’s poor show­ing in his must-win state of Florida prompted him to quit the Repub­li­can field and back Ari­zona Sen. John McCain. Th­ese de­vel­op­ments leave each party with es­sen­tially a two-per­son face-off: Hil­lary Clin­ton vs. Barack Obama for Democrats, and Mr. McCain vs. Mitt Rom­ney for Repub­li­cans.

Mr. Ed­wards’s com­bat­ive 2008 cam­paign per­sona was not as ap­peal­ing as his sun­nier approach four years ago; his an­gry pop­ulism and re­pu­di­a­tion of key votes from his sin­gle Se­nate term did not re­flect well on him. But Mr. Ed­wards’s fo­cus on poverty was an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the pub­lic di­a­logue, and he ad­vanced thought­ful pro­pos­als on is­sues rang­ing from health care to cli­mate change.

Be­cause the pol­icy dif­fer­ences be­tween the two re­main­ing Democrats are rel­a­tively nar­row, crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion must be given to who has demon­strated, over time and in the on­go­ing cam­paign, the char­ac­ter and judg­ment to suc­ceed as pres­i­dent. Nei­ther cam­paign has been blame­less in the cheap-shot de­part­ment, but the re­cent con­duct of the Clin­ton cam­paign has not shown it in a good light. For­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s com­ments about Mr. Obama’s vic­tory in South Carolina seemed to strike an ugly racial chord. His be­hav­ior makes it in­cum­bent upon Ms. Clin­ton to give a fuller ac­count of what role he would play in a third Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion. For his part, Mr. Obama’s coup — in win­ning the back­ing of Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy (DMass.), and Caro­line Kennedy, the daugh­ter of the slain pres­i­dent — am­pli­fied the ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by his can­di­dacy. Mr. Obama’s chal­lenge, as we have noted, is to go be­yond up­lift­ing rhetoric about tran­scend­ing par­ti­san dif­fer­ences and demon­strate that he has the ex­pe­ri­ence, wis­dom and steel to trans­late vi­sion into ac­tion.

With Mr. McCain’s win in Florida, the Repub­li­can race has more of a clear front-run­ner than the Democrats’, even though the Repub­li­can field, with for­mer Arkansas gov­er­nor Mike Huck­abee, is larger. Mr. McCain’s vic­tory in South Carolina was sweet rec­om­pense for his loss there four years ago, but his Florida win showed im­por­tant strengths. It was the first con­test open only to reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans, and Mr. McCain won over even those vot­ers whose chief worry is the ail­ing econ­omy. Mr. Gi­u­liani got a de­served come­up­pance from Florida vot­ers who re­fused to re­ward his ef­fort to game the pri­mary sys­tem by sit­ting out the early con­tests. Mr. McCain’s mav­er­ick stances on is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion and cam­paign fi­nance re­form make him sus­pect among some Repub­li­cans; he still faces a for­mi­da­ble and deep­pock­eted op­po­nent in Mr. Rom­ney. But as the shape of the race be­comes clearer, it’s in­creas­ingly likely that vot­ers in Novem­ber will have a choice be­tween two wor­thy op­po­nents.

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