Now that it is clear that Kerry gained from last week's debate, there will be pressure on Cheney to deliver in Tuesday's vice presidential debate. (Declaration of interest: I worked for Cheney as a Congressional Fellow.) Cheney has advantages. His appearance and manner convey authority, whereas Edwards "looks like a kid," to quote Whoopi Goldberg.
In other ways, though, Edwards may have an edge. He has a good deal of recent debate experience. Cheney has not debated since his 2000 faceoff with Lieberman. He can get testy when his integrity is under question, as Senator Leahy learned. Trial lawyer Edwards may needle him about Halliburton in hopes of provoking an untelegenic response.
GOP handlers tend to assume that ordinary voters share their aversion to trial lawyers. It's not quite so simple. In popular culture, trial lawyers are often the heroes: think of Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action. Suppose that Cheney criticizes frivolous lawsuits. Edwards could then strike back: "Frivolous? Ever heard of Valerie Lakey? She's a little girl who got trapped in a defective swimming pool drain. She lost half her intestines, and she'll need tube feeding for the rest of her life. I fought for her in court. Does the Vice President think she's frivolous? I don't think so. I think she's just as important as Dick Cheney or John Edwards -- or Halliburton."