LAS VEGAS – The failed presidential candidates’ afterlife tour landed in Nevada April 3 with former candidates John Edwards and Fred Thompson keynoting the final day of CTIA Wireless 2008. As Thompson said, “I need … to make a living.”
While their comments were long on style and charm and exceedingly brief on substance, Edwards and Thompson entertained the crowd with tales from the campaign trail.
“If all the people who said they voted for me really did, I wouldn’t be here today,” Edwards joked. Thompson noted the long faces around a craps table and said, “I haven’t seen that many losers since my first presidential debate.” When asked how campaigns have changed, Thompson deadpanned, “I used to win them.”
Neither former candidate had much to say about the wireless industry, per se, but each focused on the impact of technology on the presidential campaign. Politicians being politicians – failed or not – Edwards pointed to the Internet as a fundraising tool.
“The amount of money they’re raising online is phenomenal. It completely changes the dynamics of a campaign,” Edwards said. “Before [the Internet], you had a small number of people with a lot of money instead of, like today, where the money is being dispersed among a large number of people.”
Edwards, who ran for president in 2004 before accepting the vice presidential nomination on John Kerry’s ticket, said the media technology has changed significantly since he first ran for the Senate in 1998.
“Today, there’s always access to the candidate and the candidate’s staff. You have to constantly be ready,” Edwards said.
Thompson pointed to the irony of constant coverage leading to longer campaigns. “You’d think with this type of coverage, we would get a shorter campaign,” he said.
Those comments led both candidates to bemoan the new age of 24/7 news coverage.
“It’s a reflection of how information is disseminated today,” Edwards said. “The big national media focuses so much on the superficial: who’s up, who’s down, who has the largest crowds.” Thompson added, “There’s nothing more dangerous than dead air time you have to fill. Controversy is the name of the game, even there if there isn’t any there.”
Thompson blamed the media for its focus on the election process. “It’s easier to cover process,” he said. “It’s like covering a horse race. That’s OK for the lead horse, but for the rest of us, it’s the same view.”
Edwards, who built a good deal of his failed campaign around the Internet, said bloggers are increasingly influencing the mainstream media. He recalled from his campaign days how mainstream media was always checking the blogs before writing or going on the air with their own materials. “It’s fascinating to see how bloggers are impacting all this,” he said.
When asked if he had any endorsements to announce, Edwards flashed his photogenic smile, shook his head and said no. Thompson, on the other hand, was four square with John McCain. “He made the greatest comeback since Lazarus,” Thompson said.