Along the Tracks

Monday, September 08, 2003

Edwards getting strange advice

John Edwards has announced he will not seek re-election to the Senate from North Carolina in 2004.

The question which immediately springs to mind: Why on earth not?

The public line is that Edwards is demonstrating his “seriousness” as a presidential candidate in the Democratic field, that he is in it to win it, so to speak. But frankly, he has no chance. There is no groundswell for Edwards, he offers nothing not found in one or more of the other candidates, he is in no way unique, interesting or compelling. The only candidate who may have a claim to being on a more pointless quest than Edwards is Bob Graham - and at least he is trashing a 30-year record of centrist sensibility in his deluded run. Edwards has only a six-year record, and best as I can tell, has never stood for anything. I’m sure that’s why many - particularly the Clintons - felt he’d make a good presidential candidate. But this is not a campaign for empty sloganeering about “the people versus the powerful” or getting government to come in and “heal” or “empower” the average Joe. And nobody believes it when a trial lawyer says it, anyway.

Edwards has had his chance to step into the first tier - indeed, he was expected to be in the first tier. Unfortunately for his presidential prospects, he has distinguished himself only as a hack following a script in a campaign bereft of ideas. This was the time to get out with at least a bit of his pride, get back to North Carolina, and rebuild his battered base before the tough Senate race next year.

Instead, he has pretty much handed his seat to the Republicans. Even worse, he has damaged any hope of a challenger rising to stall Howard Dean’s momentum in the South. John Kerry didn’t “announce” his presidential bid in South Carolina last week because he was golfing. That state is Kerry’s last ditch hope for stopping Dean. If Dean sweeps Iowa and New Hampshire - and that’s the way things are lining up - South Carolina, the next primary, will really be the last chance for the field to stop a Dean tidal wave. Dick Gephardt and Kerry, the only two candidates who may come out of Iowa and New Hampshire with viability, must defeat Dean in more conservative South Carolina. One facing off against Dean’s liberal base might have a shot; two fighting for the same constituency would result in an uphill battle. Three, including Edwards, is capitulation to Dean.

Meanwhile, Edwards will wake up post-Super Tuesday Wednesday morning with his political career in tatters. Yeah, he’s young. If he wants to rebuild, he probably can. And yes, a defeat in his Senate re-election bid would have been even more devastating. But he probably could have won that race. This one he plainly cannot. So who has been whispering in his ear?

Well, we know Bill and Hillary have been behind his campaign. This decision by Edwards indicates Hillary won’t be “taking his spot” in this election cycle - that is, the favored scenario had Edwards dropping out this fall and Hillary jumping in and taking the helm of Edwards’ campaign organization. Since he has just eliminated his backup plan - run for re-election to the Senate - it seems his organization will not be available to be usurped by the Clintons.

So, I make my first bold prediction of September: Hillary Clinton will not enter the Democratic presidential candidate field.

What’s more, I think the Clintons are now going all-out for a “loser” strategy, with Howard Dean as their selected sacrificial lamb. Edwards’ decision is a real blow to both Gephardt and Kerry, who could have picked up his support - in both votes and money. Now, three candidates - Howard Dean, John Edwards and Al Sharpton - are all certain to be in the race through mid-March. Edwards is the only moderate in that trio, and he will have the advantage of being an “almost favorite son” in South Carolina and the Southern Super Tuesday primaries. Even for a lousy candidate like Edwards, that carries over into some substantial votes - maybe even polling 10 percent. Without a strong defeat of Dean by Gephardt or Kerry, the Vermont governor will move into the Midwest as the nominee apparent.

The Clintons expect Dean to lose in November 2004. I do to - although he has the energy to be dangerous. Nevertheless, with a stabilized Iraq and a growing economy by next summer, Bush looks hard to beat.

Obviously, the Clintons agree with that assessment.

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