WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Sen. John Kerry (search) and running mate John Edwards (search) rarely campaign together, but they talk daily, swapping ideas on everything from policy to strategy to staffing. Kerry insists on it, aides say, even if it puts his campaign behind schedule.
Indeed, campaign aides for both men say Kerry makes no significant decisions about the race for the presidency without consulting Edwards — a level of involvement that advisers and analysts say could extend to the White House if the Democrats win next Tuesday.
The two have been fellow senators the past six years, and Edwards says that in the campaign they have developed "a very close, personal relationship, a relationship of trust."
Should the ticket win, Edwards is expected to have an office in the West Wing, be involved in daily presidential briefings and have a portfolio of issues that he would take the lead on.
Vice presidential candidates historically have had little say in campaign matters, and many have gone on to have little influence in office. But the current vice president, Dick Cheney (search), has been a major player in President Bush's administration for the past four years, enhancing the role of the country's No. 2 leader. Al Gore also had a West Wing office in the Clinton administration.
Timothy Walch, director of the Hoover Presidential Library and an expert on the vice presidency, said Kerry and Edwards appear to have taken a cue from the power Cheney has acquired. "There's no question that the partnership between Kerry and Edwards is closer than the typical president-vice president relationship of the past," Walch said.
Paul Light, a New York University professor who wrote a book about the vice presidency, said it's clear "Edwards has been given a significant role here, and that's a good sign for his potential influence in the White House."
During the Democratic primary season, rumors swirled that Kerry didn't think much of the one-term senator he was competing against. But aides called that notion nonsense, saying Kerry grew to respect the North Carolina senator during the primary season and the vice presidential vetting process.
On the campaign trail, Edwards often tells voters that he and Kerry are plugged in with each other even though they campaign separately. Edwards makes comments like, "I know John feels the same — he told me about it the other day."
Peter Scher, Edwards' campaign manager and a veteran of 20 years working for vice presidential candidates, said Edwards is more engaged in the inner workings of the campaign than others before him.
But the involvement often is below the radar.
In August, when the ticket was down in the polls, aides say Edwards advocated adding depth to the campaign team and was instrumental in Kerry's decision to bring in former Clinton administration officials.
After a group of Vietnam veterans accused Kerry of lying about his war service, aides say Edwards pressed Kerry to respond to the charges and volunteered to be the one to hit back.
In their daily phone calls, the two often talk about where the race stands, what areas may need more attention and what they are seeing and hearing on the trail.
In mid-October, following a joint event in Iowa, Kerry, Edwards and their wives were briefed for more than an hour by senior strategists about the campaign's voter turnout initiative and other aspects of the race, a meeting Kerry requested.
Since joining the ticket in July, Edwards has urged Kerry to let him campaign in areas where he believed he would be most effective — rural communities and high job-loss regions. He wanted, for instance, to spend more time visiting Appalachian towns in southeastern Ohio, so he did a bus tour in the area in September.
Kerry and Edwards collaborate on policy as well.
They consulted with each other frequently as Kerry crafted a speech at New York University in mid-September in which he staked out new ground on Iraq, suggesting that if he had been president he would not have overthrown Saddam Hussein had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction.
Often, the candidates talk about tone, discussing how to draw contrasts with Bush and Cheney without seeming contentious or prickly.
Just before a rare joint appearance in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 21, the two worked on some of their remarks together. As a roomful of advisers put in their two cents, Edwards and Kerry tuned them out.
They huddled over the remarks in which Kerry was to criticize Bush for saying that intelligence officials were "just guessing" about what the postwar conditions in Iraq might be.
The result was the approach Edwards had suggested. Kerry read Bush's comment to his audience, and said: "Does that make you feel safer? Does that give you confidence that this president knows what he's talking about?"