During his decade as the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House, David Bonior earned a reputation as a pit bull — the Democrat most likely to take on Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Bonior, 61, will probably soon take on another difficult task: leading former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to the Democratic nomination for president.
It was announced last week that Bonior, a former congressman from Michigan, has been hired as a senior adviser to Edwards’ One America Committee, his leadership political action committee. But that is expected to be a temporary post. Bonior is likely to be campaign manager for Edwards if, as expected, he announces a second run for the White House.
Bonior is the new face in the Edwards camp. He is a high-profile Democrat whose appointment reinforces Edwards’ efforts to build bridges to organized labor, environmental groups and party progressives as he tries to outflank New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on the left.
Bonior is also a hard-nosed and passionate working-class politician who repeatedly questioned Gingrich’s ethics and was independent enough to oppose his own president, Democrat Bill Clinton, on trade issues.
"Bonior brings a whole lot of political savvy," said David Rohde, a Duke University presidential scholar who watched Bonior in action in Michigan for decades. "He is a very smart and capable guy. He brings a whole host of political contacts."
"He has the same kind of populist appeal (as Edwards)," Rohde said. "I think this suggests that that thrust will continue."
To an unusual degree in the vagabond world of political campaigns, Edwards will start the 2008 presidential race with his 2004 team largely intact. When Edwards political insiders gathered in Washington last week for a Christmas Party, Bonior was the newcomer.
Bonior, who teaches labor issues at Wayne State University, initially supported Democrat Dick Gephardt during the 2004 presidential election. But Gephardt dropped out after a poor showing in Iowa. Bonior and his wife, Judy, headed to New Hampshire and attended events held by the four remaining Democratic presidential candidates before deciding to back Edwards.
"He was exceptional," Bonior said in an interview last week. "I liked his analysis of the two Americas and the need to bring unity. I was encouraged by his talk about issues that other people sometimes ignore. I think he would make a great president."
Few Democratic congressmen were closer to organized labor than Bonior, a group that Edwards has heavily courted since 2004. Bonior notes that Edwards has walked picket lines all across the country and, last week, received the Paul Wellstone Award from the AFL-CIO, the most prestigious award given by labor.
"His activism speaks loudly," Bonior said. "He has not only talked the talk, but he has walked the walk."