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The amazingly quick collapse of Hillary Clinton's campaign could be the opening that John Edwards was looking for.

In 2004, Edwards wanted a one-on-one vs. John Kerry but didn't get that until far too late in the process. If Barack Obama's win in New Hampshire effectively knocks out Clinton on Tuesday night, Edwards will have almost a month to make his case -- and he'll finally get the media coverage to do so, because make no mistake, the media want a contest.

From MSNBC's Tom Curry:

If Hillary Clinton were to suffer a defeat of large proportions on Tuesday night in the New Hampshire primary, and if her star were to fade in the succeeding contests in Nevada and South Carolina, she might either quit the race or cease to be a dominant factor.

Edwards would remain as the only person standing between Obama and the Democratic presidential nomination.

Edwards and his strategists are already planning for a two-man contest.

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"Why," the media ask, "is Edwards going after Hillary instead of Obama? Shouldn't he be attacking the new front-runner? That's the way this game is supposed to be played! How dare Edwards not follow the rules?!"

It looks like he learned a lesson from 2004 when Kerry and Dean got all the post-Iowa media coverage. I think there's a method to his madness if you stop and look at it (and remember Edwards was the one who framed the "status quo lost and change won" dynamic when he was the first to speak on caucus night):

The press is giving Hillary more coverage right now because they can sense that "the inevitable front-runner" is about to go down. Edwards gets less coverage, even though he was the one who edged her out for second place Thursday night. Nothing Edwards can do about that but try to use it to his advantage. How? Here's how...

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This might explain why Obama has started attacking Edwards by name over the past few days (from NBC/National Journal):

The two candidates both spoke at Mason City on Saturday night, and experienced a reversal in roles, with Edwards packing a huge hall that was so crowded that the press left their risers and went into the balcony to shoot the event. Obama also drew a sizeable number of people, around 450, but in a comparison of press reports by NBC reporters, it lacked the frenzied enthusiasm that greeted Edwards.

There is no doubt that after Edwards dominated the final Des Moines Register debate, we can summarize his closing argument to Iowans with one word: FIGHT. While one candidate thinks that lobbyists are actually a good thing, and another hopes we can all get along, Edwards understands that this kind of thinking by Democrats in the Senate and the House is why we're seeing one surrender after another to President 24%.

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John Edwards has surged into the lead in the latest poll of likely Florida Democratic primary voters.

Edwards: 26
Clinton: 24
Obama: 19
Undecided: 12
Richardson: 7
Biden: 6
Kucinich: 3
Other: 2
Dodd: 1

One interesting aspect is the following (in bold):

Methodology: Findings are based on May 14 – 18, 2007 survey using a comprehensive predictive model of "likely" voters, based on election cycles and other factors of voters in Florida. The survey was conducted using an automated telephone dialer and the voice of a professional announcer. A Datamar proprietary algorithm was used to generate random samples of voters for calling. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 4.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

I think this might have been a "robo-poll" like the ones SurveyUSA uses, which tend to show Edwards much stronger than many of the "live" polls. Which raises an interesting issue...

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UPDATE: Didn't take the Des Moines Register long, did it? My favorite quote:

"I believe we need a new approach to winning the Democratic nomination," deputy Clinton campaign manager Mike Henry said, according to a memo, provided to The Des Moines Register and authenticated by Clinton aides.

Ya think?

----

AP has the story over here. Hotline has some reaction right here.

As Hotline says, you never use the word "skip" even when you're planning to "skip" a state. It just sounds terrible and weak. And it makes you wonder who the heck leaked this memo, and why.

Is this already an attempt by the Clinton campaign to lower expectations in Iowa, where she's losing ground and has slipped to third? It is obviously not something you want to be doing if you're in a position of strength -- it gives off a vibe of desperation.

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John Edwards' first TV ad hit the air in Iowa today, on broadcast and cable channels. It features Iowans calling on Congress to stand up to Bush’s veto of the Iraq war funding bill.

"The American people have given Congress a mission to end the war — but that mission hasn’t been accomplished yet," Edwards said in a statement announcing the ad.

Edwards said in a conference call with Iowa reporters that "compromise is concession" on this issue. He said the American people sent a mandate to Congress to end the war in the November election, and now Congress must "stand its ground."

"This is a time for political courage, not political calculation. Congress needs to hear the message of Iowans and use its power to bring this war to an end," Edwards said.

He is encouraging other Iowans to submit their own video messages through YouTube and will release an expanded version of the Iowa ad online.

The ad can be viewed here.

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John Edwards leads among likely Iowa caucus-goers, according to the latest poll by the University of Iowa released today, with a 5.7% lead over Hillary Clinton and a 14.9% lead over Barack Obama.

Results show that Edwards remains the leader among likely Democratic caucus goers, competing primarily with Clinton for caucus support. Edwards led by a substantial margin with 34.2 percent. Clinton followed with 28.5 percent, and Obama with 19.3 percent. No other candidate reached 2 percent. Twelve and a half percent of Democratic caucus goers were undecided.

Edwards also is viewed as the most electable of the Democrats.

Edwards' support among Democratic caucus goers appears to be linked to perceptions that he can win the presidential election. When given the statement  "Edwards is electable", 89.0 percent of Democratic caucus goers agreed. This was the highest percentage in the survey. 86.6 percent of Democratic caucus goers believe Obama is electable; 76.5 percent feel Clinton is.

Analysis after the jump.

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John Edwards is now trouncing John McCain by NINE points, 47%-38%, and he's also annihilating Mitt Romney by TWENTY-SIX POINTS, 55%-29%, in the latest Rasmussen polls.

Those are 8-point increases over Edwards' leads against both McCain and Romney in February. Too bad Rasmussen didn't poll Edwards vs. Giuliani again -- if he also gained 8 points against Giuliani, he's now ahead in that race, too.

Edwards is soundly beating the two Republicans who are expected to raise the most money in the first quarter. Speaking of money, Edwards is closing in on 25,000 donors and $2.5 million on ActBlue. I'm going to help him reach that by tonight's deadline for first quarter donations, and I hope you will too.

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Marc Cooper blogged for The Nation last night about the SEIU Health Care forum in Las Vegas: "Edwards Stands Out On Health Care Debate"

Seven of the Democratic presidential contenders spent all of Saturday morning talking about their health care policies at a union-organized forum at UNLV; and while they vowed to provide universal coverage if elected, only John Edwards presented a plan with any significant details.

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UPDATE: I should point out that this obviously raises the stakes to "All In" for Hillary in Iowa. I've mentioned before that the third-place finisher in Iowa will look an awful lot like the last-place finisher in Iowa. Some argue that with Hillary's money, she can afford a weak showing. This endorsement confirms that her campaign doesn't believe that, either.

MSNBC.com says: BREAKING -- AP: Officials say ex-Iowa Gov. Vilsack will back Sen. Clinton in '08 race.

The timing on this is ... interesting (at least they waited almost a whole 24 hours since the Edwards news conference). The timing certainly makes it look like the Hillary Clinton campaign is very, very worried about the John Edwards campaign.

My feeling all along was that Hillary was desperately hoping Vilsack could take Iowa off the table. When it became clear that he couldn't do that, I knew he would be endorsing her.

Don't expect much boost for her out of this. Vilsack's numbers in Iowa, such as they were, were out of a sense of loyalty to him. It's not transferrable.

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John Edwards is introducing his universal health care plan to more than 70,000 Iowans via DVD. It's not quite the same as "going up" with TV ads, but considering that only about 120,000 people go to the caucuses -- and Edwards bought the Iowa Democratic Party's list -- this is some targeted marketing on a large scale. The Politico has the story and the video.

Edwards’ video -- which you can watch on Politico.com -- is the first effort this presidential cycle to reach voters directly and in numbers beyond those who tune into announcement speeches on television or on candidates’ websites. The mailing reflects continuing centrality of Iowa in the presidential primary process, and to Edwards’ campaign in particular.

"I keep hearing people describe me as a ‘populist’," Edwards says late in the six minute, seventeen-second  video, which alternates between the candidate and unnamed Iowans speaking about their health-care worries. "If being a populist means you feel deeply and strongly committed to regular people having a real chance and not getting run over by big, powerful interests –- oh yeah, if that’s true, I’m a populist."

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The Des Moines Register examines Tom Vilsack's departure from the 2008 presidential race: Edwards' campaign rides on Iowa: Vilsack's exit from race raises expectations for front-runner:

If any candidate inherits something from Tom Vilsack's departure from the Democratic presidential campaign, it's John Edwards.

What he gets: Pressure.

The former Iowa governor's campaign hinged on winning his home state's caucuses, the start of a fiercely competitive nominating gauntlet. Vilsack's decision Friday to quit the race shifts much of the burden of expectations in the caucuses to Edwards, the front-runner in early Iowa polls.

"Edwards has as much or more riding on Iowa's outcome as any of the others," University of Iowa political science professor Peverill Squire said.

I think where this article misses the point is that the pressure really hasn't gone up for Edwards so much as it has for every other candidate. Here's why:

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