John Edwards – almost there

Dateline: 04 May 2007

John Edwards has always been part of the pack of contenders for 2008, but has never broken out of the pack. Most were predicting, after his decent performance in 2004, that he would be running second to Hillary Clinton. Second place in the primary polls is not a bad place to be. The front-runner experiences all sorts of pressures, and critics tend to rally round whomever looks best placed to challenge. That might be particularly true with a front-runner such as Hillary Clinton, with famously high negatives.

But while people have expected Edwards to be the permanent number two, he has actually been the permanent number three. All through 2005 and 2006, Virginia governor, Mark Warner was looking very strong. In November 2005 his handpicked successor, Tim Kaine, unexpectedly triumphed in a generally conservative state. Warner was beginning to look like the sort of moderate southern governor the Democrats would need: more like Clinton (Bill) than Clinton (Hillary) ever is. He capped this performance with helping deliver Virginia to the Democrats’ senatorial candidate in 2006 – an election that put the seal on Democratic control of Congress.

Then, unexpectedly, Warner pulled out. He feels the pressure of the presidency would be too much for his young family. Edwards must have felt that his perennial third place in all the punditry would automatically convert to second.

Equally unexpectedly, Barack Obama shot to the number two slot in all the polls. His fundraising in the first quarter of the year far exceeded that of Edwards, and when funds for use in the primary are considered, he even beat Clinton.

So Edwards remains everyone’s bet at the third most likely Democrat to win the nomination. But it is still eight months until Iowa, and there is plenty of time for that to change. Obama might stumble. The Democrats were the party of Jim Crow, and before that the party of slavery. There is still at least one old Klansman in the Senate. It may turn out that Democrats are more willing to say they will vote for an African-American than to actually vote for one.

Edwards, having briefly shone in early fundraising in 2003 slipped well back in polls for 2004, too. But emerged to a strong second place in Iowa, a win in South Carolina and the number two slot on the ticket. In Iowa, he was endorsed by the Des Moines Register and most observers agree that, given another week, he would have pulled ahead of Kerry. If he had eliminated southern rival Wesley Clark a little earlier . . . well, who knows? He was the almost candidate in 2004. For much of the campaign he seemed passionate while Kerry seemed flat. To many Democrats he was the candidate they wish they had chosen. He still polls very well in Iowa, often taking first place in this critical early state. He is a fine orator; he is very wealthy and has the time and money to spend in Iowa and New Hampshire.

He could certainly surprise again in 2008. He could emerge as the Democrat best-placed to beat Clinton by January, and actually beat her in February. But I have a feeling he might be the almost-candidate again.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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