Ed Rendell, Straight-talker

by Noam Scheiber | February 12, 2008

Via TPM Election Central, I see that Governor Ed Rendell is back to embarrassing a presidential candidate he ostensibly supports. Here's an account of how Rendell, a Hillary supporter, recently sized up Obama's chances in Pennsylviania:

Gov. Ed "Don't Call Me 'Fast Eddie' " Rendell met with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week to talk about his latest budget. But before turning the meeting over to his number-crunchers, our voluble governor weighed in on the primary fight between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and what the Illinois senator could expect from the good people of Pennsylvania at the polls:

"You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate," he said bluntly. Our eyes only met briefly, perhaps because the governor wanted to spare the only black guy in the room from feeling self-conscious for backing an obvious loser. "I believe, looking at the returns in my election, that had Lynn Swann [2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate] been the identical candidate that he was -- well-spoken [note: Mr. Rendell did not call the brother "articulate"], charismatic, good-looking -- but white instead of black, instead of winning by 22 points, I would have won by 17 or so."

If we had archives, I'd point you to TNR alum Bryan Curtis's first-ever piece for us, published in October of 2000. Since that's a luxury currently unavailable to us, I'll just re-print the lede here:

At first glance, Ed Rendell looks serene. He is sprawled on a patio outside his office, feet propped up, neck arching back to take in the sun. But the silence is fleeting. In an instant, Rendell, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is upright, ready to answer questions. Or bark at his aides. Or field calls from party operatives. Or do all three simultaneously. For the next 90 minutes, Rendell talks incessantly. Legend has it that when he was mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell would schedule four meetings concurrently, in adjoining rooms, so he could conduct them all at the same time.

Rendell's words come fast and unfiltered. He leaps from Bill Clinton ("a fascinating character study!") to his role in the Gore campaign ("I've never been an attack dog") to his demeanor ("Sure, I have a temper"). And then, as is his wont, Rendell says something he should not: "I basically take orders from twenty-seven-year-old guys in Nashville who have virtually no real-life experience. All they've done is been political consultants living in an artificial world, and basically their opinion counts more than mine."

With comments like that, it's not hard to see why. Indeed, Rendell's tenure as DNC chairman has been one long, off-the-cuff rant. The media love it (Chris Matthews of "Hardball" calls Rendell "a real mensch"). But Democrats aren't so smitten and are working hard to marginalize their party's titular head. "The trick," says one Democratic consultant, "is to keep him in a position where he can't do any harm."

Man, what ever happened to that Curtis guy? He had real talent...  

--Noam Scheiber

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-stump/ed-rendell-straight-talker