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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

With the news that John Edwards will debate Karl Rove on September 26 at the University of Buffalo, it’s a good day for some quick tea-leaf reading. Does this mean Edwards is out of the running for VP?

Let’s agree up front that if Edwards were offered the #2 slot and took it, the notion of canceling the event with Rove would not be any big deal. Telling the university and obviously interested media that he regretfully needs to focus on VP stuff, and perhaps finding a stand-in to keep the event(s) viable, is an excuse everyone would obviously accept. And it seems highly unlikely Obama would want Rove getting clean shots at his VP, so the cancellation of said debate(s) would seem automatic.

Still, Republicans would carpet the airwaves for a day, asking, “What’s John Edwards afraid of? Just because he’s the VP candidate he can’t still debate Karl Rove? Why are Obama and Edwards afraid? (Blah blah blah “Democrat Party” national security here).” Why give away cheap, freebie points like this? Why even waste the energy having surrogates point out how silly it is and even one day of controlling the message?

If you’re standing in John Edwards’ shoes, and let’s say you want the #2 offer, is accepting this kind of commitment five weeks before the general election more or less an indication that you’re clearing your schedule for the fall? It can be argued that if the unwritten rules require you to appear publicly disinterested in the post, this commitment signals excellent blasé-itude.

But what to make of the snippet that this may not be an individual event, but part of a series?

As surrogates for the parties’ standard bearers, the two also could square off more than once at other locations around the nation.

“We’re working on something like that for our Distinguished Speakers Series,” said Bill Regan, UB’s director of special events. “We’re not really sure of the format yet. But we do think they are scheduled to do it at least once together before they come to UB.”

Committing to a series of high-profile and sure to be much-discussed debates with Karl Rove is a great way to stay important in the Democratic Party; it’s also a telegraphed sign that Edwards knows the answer to whether he’ll be the pick.

Have a safe and happy 4th!

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