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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Democratic Primaries - Can John Edwards Win?

Originally posted at Daily Kos on May 15, 2007.

"There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it.
This is it: Only nut cases want to be president."
~ Kurt Vonnegut, "Cold Turkey", In These Times, May 10, 2004

This diary is installment #1 in what I envision as an evolving analysis of the top three Democratic "nut cases" and how they might successully navigate the frontloaded 2008 presidential nominating calendar to become the Democratic standardbearer.

How will the recent addition of Florida onto the calendar before the February 5th "Mardi Gras Primary" affect the chances and determine the strategy choices of each of the campaigns? Will either Nevada or South Carolina provide momentum for any of the candidates? How can Obama and/or Edwards position themselves to win the most delegates on "Tsunami Tuesday" in case Hillary falters?

And the two questions most applicable to the topic of this diary:
1) Does Hillary, sitting at 30%-40% in state polls in every region of the country, have an easier ride because of the condensed calendar?
2) Can Edwards parlay his lead in Iowa, seize momentum in other early states and win the nomination?

Let's start by looking at where we stand eight months ahead of the Iowa caucuses...

The national polls consistently show Hillary occupying a dominating position within the Democratic party's primary voters. Nationally, she has maintained a solid lead throughout the opening months of the campaign

The dilemma for Democratic activists is the divergent messages contained in the current polls. While Hillary is the clear frontrunner in the fight for the Democratic nomination, she consistently measures up worse against the GOP frontrunners than both Obama and Edwards when the pollsters present voters hypothetical 2008 general election matchups.

Of course, both the nominating process and the general election are NOT national elections. Rather, in both the primary season and on election day, Americans select our president in a set of state-by-state contests, so a more accurate analysis of the state of the race can be revealed by looking at state preference polls to determine who has the inside track to the nomination.

For those in the "ABC (Anybody But Clinton)" Camp, the news isn't good. Despite her lack of popularity in the liberal blogosphere, Clinton looks exceptionally strong at this stage of the race. In fact, a review of polling outlets across the nation reveals that Sen. Clinton leads in practically every state in America - and after briefly being threatened by an "Obama Boomlet" seems to have found her voice and steadied the ship.

In state after state, public opinion has settled in measuring the support for Hillary between 33%-45%, Obama at 18%-27%, and Edwards receiving between 12%-20%. It is important to note that in the early primary states, where voters are paying more attention (and the candidates have become more familiar due to frequent visits), the gap between the candidates is often smaller.

Currently, there are four states in which Mrs. Clinton has not held a consistent lead: Iowa (Edwards), Illinois (Obama), North Carolina (Edwards) and New Mexico (Richardson).

Since three of the four are simply a home state supporting the favorite son, the one state currently in play is the one at the front of the line. Iowa is likely to determine whether or not this primary season becomes yet another Democratic coronation, as in 2000 and 2004.

But, tantalizing questions abound: If Hillary falters in Des Moines does it open the door for anyone else on Feb 5th? If Edwards surprises in Nevada or Obama surges in South Carolina, does it mean Democrats nationwide start casting their votes for the candidate viewed as the strongest in the general election? Will Democrats in states with primaries in mid February (or even March) play a role in determining the nominee? Or, does a Hillary defeat in Iowa start the dominoes falling to create a scenario to a brokered convention? Or perhaps a Gore candidacy?

Since the lynchpin to any scenario other than Hillary being the nominee starts with her not winning Iowa - and John Edwards is the candidate most likely to succeed in the Hawkeye State, I'm going to look at how the Edwards team can plot their road to the White House, from today's vantage point.

In coming days, I'll look at Obama and Richardson's potential roadmaps.

IOWA CAUCUSES - Monday, 1/14/08 (tentative)


The storyline for the Edwards campaign coming out of Iowa simply HAS TO BE something along these lines, if they hope to be competitive on Mardi Gras Primary Day. The air of invincibility surrounding the Clinton campaign must be called into question.

The fast and furious pace of the weeks between Iowa and the National Primary makes it imperative for Edwards to seriously question Clinton's general election chances - and this message must seep into the MSM, Internet and national dialogue.

DELEGATE COUNT (assuming IA results - Edwards 30%, Clinton 24%, Obama 20%)
45 pledged delegates at stake
Edwards - 25
Clinton - 11
Obama - 9

NEXT STOP - NEVADA CAUCUSES Tuesday, 1/19/08 - tentative

The central question for all the campaigns in approaching Nevada's inaugural caucuses echoes the Vegas ads. Will the rest of America respond to the results with a shrug of the shoulders and say, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?" The long tradition of IA and NH as kingmakers in the presidential process simply doesn't exist in Nevada, one of the fastest growing states in the US.

And while it is precisely the phenomenal growth (along with the large Latino population and huge union influence in the state) that provided Harry Reid the arguments to convince the DNC to place NV near the front of the line, to turn Nevada Blue. There are simply so many unknowns, which are clearly making some campaigns hesitant to spend a lot of resources in the state at this early stage.

With the unions current decision to refrain from making early endorsements in the 2008 nominating fight, Edwards' can expect limited support from some of his closest labor allies - and that may not translate into the committed supporters that otherwise would be at his disposal with labor endorsements in his back pocket. This also may be the place that NM Governor Bill Richardson finds his traction - which might lead Edwards strategists to eventual opt for the sidelines in the Silver State.

A recent Mason-Dixon poll shows Hillary's numbers in the state reflecting the national polls, with both Edwards and Obama in the midteens struggling to gain momentum. Edwards hope to outperform his current poll numbers can happen if his labor allies successfully get members to the caucuses and that Richardson (likely to gain some support as the Westerner in race), syphons support from Hillary and not Edwards.

DELEGATE COUNT - assuming NV results Clinton 27%, Edwards 22%, Obama 20%, Richardson 15%
25 pledged delegates at stake

NV Prev Total
Edwards 6 25 31
Clinton 10 11 21
Obama 5 9 14
Richardson 4 0 4

NEW HAMPSHIRE Tuesday, 1/22/08 (tentative)
"Another Comeback Kid?"

It is possible Clinton could recover her footing in New Hampshire, but unlike "The Comeback Kid's" resurrection with a second place finish in 1992, Hillary will need to win convincingly in the Granite State to silence the doubters. If she does this, the battle will likely be over with the first primary of the season.

New Hampshire voters, however, have a notorious history of independence when they walk into the voting booth. Will the anger toward the war exhibited in the 2006 elections continue into the 2008 primaries? If so, will Hillary pay a price for her "no apology" stance? What role will indpendents play in this open primary? Thus far, the NH polls show Hillary weathering the storm. However, Edwards has recently been closing the gap with the frontrunner according to recent NH polls. He has surpassed Obama who appears to be struggling to connect with the Yankees of the Granite State.

Since this diary is designed to illustrate Edwards' path to the presidency, let's assume this trend continues. If Edwards can overtake Hillary in New Hampshire, it could signal the beginning of the end of the Hillary candidacy. But, let's be honest, the more likely result is that we would have a humdinger of a nomination battle on the Democratic side as the nation's focus moved south to South Carolina and Florida and then to the SuperNova on February 5th.

DELEGATE COUNT - assuming NH results Edwards 33%, Clinton 27%, Edwards 22%, Obama 20%,
22 pledged delegates at stake

NH Prev Total
Edwards 12 31 43
Clinton 6 21 27
Obama 4 14 18
Richardson 0 4 4


The Battle Moves to Dixie - SC primary Tuesday, 1/29/08 (tentative)

South Carolina was Edwards only primary victory in 2004. He was born here and represented neighboring North Carolina in the Senate. This time around, however, he is not expected to win. The two other frontrunners have a strong base of support in the state's African American population, which makes up a large percentage of the Democratic primary voters.

One could argue that if the Edwards camp has won both Iowa and New Hampshire coupled with a reasonable showing in Nevada (as the above scenario lays out), then the poll numbers in SC would likely undergo a significant shift.

If I were inside the Edwards camp, I wouldn't be placing too many resources in SC, for a number of reasons. I simply don't think that South Carolina is a "make or break" opportunity for the Edwards team. If they haven't won in either IA or NH, a win here is going to be meaningless. because the campaign would already be over. And, if they are on a winning streak, any delegates picked up here would, IMHO, be viewed as icing on the cake.

DELEGATE COUNT - assuming SC results Clinton 35%, Obama 27%, Edwards 22%
22 pledged delegates at stake

SC Prev Total
Edwards 12 43 55
Clinton 23 27 50
Obama 10 18 28
Richardson 0 4 4

And, if the South Carolina and Florida primaries are held on the same day (as is currently scheduled), Florida will unquestionably be the focus of every campaign. The winner of the nation's largest Battle Ground state will automatically become the de facto favorite going into "Tsunami Tuesday".

UP NEXT: FLORIDA - a bellwhether and kingmaker?

One note: The "small d" democrat in me is rooting for a longer nominating process, one in which more voters become engaged, the candidates debate serious issues, Democrats differentiate our party from the corporate, war-mongering Republicans and our eventual nominee becomes a unifying choice around whom we can all rally in the general election.

I don't believe the chaotic 2008 primary calendar is the most effective way to achieve these goals. But, while it sure ain't pretty, its what we've got this time around. So, let's make the best of it and make sure we nominate the strongest candidate who stands the best chance of ending this long national embarassment and can lead America back to our founding ideals.

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