The Murky Future of John Edwards
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I mentioned earlier that yesterday's results in the New Hampshire primary were probably the worst of all possible outcomes for John Edwards, and not just because his 17% support was lackluster (both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama more than doubled Edwards' vote total). I should probably flesh this out a bit.
After Iowa, there was a plausible scenario for Edwards moving forward -- make it a two-person race with Obama, and argue that his vision of more forceful change was the more compelling one. It's why I agree with Ezra's take from last night.
A second in New Hampshire would have given them needed momentum. A Clinton second would have at least blunted her chances, and allowed them to continue with their "two candidates of change" argument. But this simply intensifies the coverage of the Democratic primary as a two-person race.
Quite right. Edwards has had two main hurdles to clear of late -- bringing in more campaign contributions and generating more media attention. An unimpressive third-place showing makes both challenges more problematic.
I know Edwards supporters will object to this, but I don't think it's unreasonable to wonder whether Edwards played at least an indirect role in propelling Clinton to victory in New Hampshire. It was his criticisms of Clinton that drew a heated response (Hillary argued this morning that this was a key turning point), and it was his arguably cheap shot on Monday (re: The Tears) that contributed to additional sympathy for Clinton the day before the primary.
Tim Grieve added that Edwards' role may have even been more direct.
Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman declared Tuesday night that the Democratic presidential primary is now a "one-on-one race." "Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama," Terry McAuliffe said. "We're excited." Really?
Until Tuesday, the Clinton campaign has argued that Barack Obama and John Edwards were engaged in some kind of unfair, two-against-one fight against her. The campaign has decried the "politics of pile on," Bill Clinton has complained that "the boys" were ganging up on his wife, and Hillary Clinton herself argued in New Hampshire that Edwards and Obama had aligned themselves in "a buddy system" against her.
Take Edwards out of the equation, and it's hard to run on that kind of victim narrative. More important, if you take Edwards out of the equation, our money says the stunning but narrow victory Clinton won in New Hampshire becomes something that looks a lot more like the defeat that almost everyone was expecting.
It's hard to say with any certainty where Edwards' supporters would go if he weren't in the race, but I think Tim's probably right -- they're more likely to back Obama than Clinton.
Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.