When it’s time to quit

What kind of ego drives a man to continue for years to seek an office he has no chance of winning? Particularly when that job is the presidency of the United States, a position that requires the occupant to have masochistic tendencies?

Now that Fred Thompson has dropped out of the Republican sweepstakes for the White House, it is amazing that another former senator, John Edwards, is still hanging around. He’s apparently hoping for a miracle in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, which he won in 2004 but is trailing badly in now. Edwards’ campaign for his party’s nomination really has never been much more viable than Thompson’s was for the GOP nod, even though it was far more energetic and despite the fact that he made the national ticket in the second spot four years ago.

The North Carolina lawyer evidently is incapable of pulling the plug on this burning ambition.

Now we hear talk that when the Democratic nominee eventually is chosen and begins looking around for a running mate, Edwards once again will be at the top of the list. Reports of overtures from the two top candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, for his eventual support have begun to swirl around what is left of his campaign.

Why, for goodness’ sake?

What in the world, besides a pretty face and bold ideas no one seems to be buying, can Edwards bring to anyone’s ticket? After a brilliant legal career as a supercharged ambulance chaser, making millions on personal-injury cases, he got elected to the U.S. Senate, his first attempt at public office.

But instead of learning his craft, he almost immediately considered that success and some national speculation based mainly on his personable demeanor and good looks as indicative of his ability to run the entire country. He used the first four years to hone his image and the next two to prepare for a White House run. Sounds like Obama, huh? Basically, that is where Edwards’ political career ended, with the exception of being chosen as Democratic nominee John Kerry’s partner in the rather ugly, unsuccessful effort to oust George W. Bush.

The next real highlight in this unceasing, almost obsessive effort was to try to mediate some civility between Clinton and Obama recently during an acrimonious debate. Ironic, since he had joined Obama in starting the fuss in the first place. But the two front-runners pretty much ignored his entreaties.

Thompson never really seemed to have his head or his heart in the effort. He was slow to enter the race and his pace was even slower when he did. But finding himself lapped by three others, he showed the perceptiveness to take that as more than ample evidence that he wasn’t going to win. Not for nothing was he a successful prosecutor, in reality and on television. His ability to understand when to fold his cards is almost reason enough to put him in the Oval Office, where good common sense has been too often in short supply. Now there is speculation that he stayed around just long enough to help advance the prospects of his close friend, Sen. John McCain, although Thompson denies he will endorse any of his former candidate colleagues soon.

It’s time for Edwards to realize the same thing, and it won’t be long, if the polls are accurate, that Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor, will be in the same position — probably after Florida’s Republican primary — if, like Edwards, his ego doesn’t override his better judgment.

Edwards has shown that, when one has millions of dollars and nothing better to do, running for the presidency is as good a way as any of killing time. He does seem like a nice man despite his single-minded tendencies.

The best thing he could do is to follow Thompson’s example. By now, he has been around long enough to earn the affectionate title of “emeritus.”

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)