Edwards’ ghost still haunts Democrats

A spectre is haunting American politics — the spectre of John Edwards. A week after “suspending” his campaign, the former North Carolina Senator received over 380,000 votes in super Tuesday primaries.

Many states still listed Edwards on the ballot — as well as the names of other candidates who had withdrawn. In some states, absentee ballots were counted, including those were submitted before Edwards withdrew from the race.
In Oklahoma, Edwards came within a few thousand votes of crossing the 15% threshold, which would have earned him another half dozen delegates (in addition to the 26 he won in earlier primaries).
In California, he received a staggering 143,000 votes — and that’s with only half the precincts reporting in. There were counties were he received 18% of the vote.
In New Mexico, Edwards voters exceeded the margin of victory for the winning candidate.
To put those 380,000 votes in perspective, that’s only a few thousand fewer than Ralph Nader received nationwide in 2004, running as an independent in the general election. And these are votes for a candidate who has withdrawn from the race.
If nothing else, the Edwards campaign — even suspended — shows the futility of third-party efforts and confirms the importance for progressives of campaigning within the Democratic Party.
Those Edwards voters have sent a message to the remaining Democratic candidates that the ideas put forward by their candidate — most importantly, universal health care — are still very much on the agenda. The candidate who wins the nomination will be the one who succeeds in winning over Edwards voters and should keep in mind that in the final polls before he withdrew, Edwards was commanding the support of one in six Democrats. That translates into at least ten million votes in a general election.
Edwards himself has refrained from endorsing a candidate and his supporters seem torn equally between switching over to Clinton or Obama. Those choosing Obama share his vision of change and to a certain degree a more critical view of the Clinton years in the White House (years which saw the passage of free trade legislation, the decline of unions, and a rise in inequality). Those who have endorsed Clinton point to her universal health care plan which is essentially a clone of the Edwards proposal.
The results of Super Tuesday for the Democrats provide no clearer sense of who is going to win the nomination — but do raise the possibility once again of a deadlocked convention, or one that might be decided by a handful of votes.

1 Comment on "Edwards’ ghost still haunts Democrats"

  1. Frank Llewellyn | 08/02/2008 at 17:33 |

    Not all of those 380,000 votes represent the informed statement in favor of a program in spite of the withdrawal of its standard bearer that your own vote did.
    Early voting, especially in California and previously in Florida meant that many cast votes for Edwards while he was still an active candidate and lost the opportunity to change their mind. I believe if you look at the exit polls you will see that very few of the late deciders voted for Edwards.
    There is also another side of the vote. The exit polls have consistently shown that some voters don’t think that a women or an African-American can be elected. For those voters a vote for Edwards may have been their only real choice.
    You are correct that we may see a convention so closely divided among elected delegates that the super delegates decide it. However it can no longer be assumed that they will break toward the candidate of the Democratic establishment. Now that the Republican nominee is know and given Obama’s strength, the question of electibility will become as important or more important than loyalty to the front runner.
    Hillary Clinton still has to be regarded as the front runner, because of her greater name recognition and established relationships.
    However taken as a whole the story of the campaign to this point does provide a path to an Obama nomination.
    Frontrunners have to defeat insurgents. So far Clinton has failed to defeat Obama.
    Obama has already succeeded in becoming the alternative candidate to Clinton, and made it absolutely clear that her nomination is not inevitable.
    He started with the base that many previous insurgencies also began with. African-American voters, who were heavily for Clinton, moved away from her steadily as it became clear that his campaign was viable and that he might actually win the nomination.
    The attempt by the Clinton’s to paint him as simply a black candidate backfired badly, resulting in a humiliating defeat. However the exit polls in South Carolina and Florida (where Obama did not campaign) did show that Obama’s support among white voters seemed to slip.
    The Super Tuesday result included a dramatic improvement in his showing among white voters, and I believe that Obama carried white voters in California.
    This leaves Clinton with a narrow, but important base which might be strong enough to carry the day, but which she will have to struggle to hold on to.
    Clinton won with strong support from women, Latino voters, senior voters and low-income voters. Obama has increased his support among women but so far has only chipped away her support among Latinos. Senior and low-income voters are the hardest groups for insurgents to win over. They are much less prone to risk taking and supporting unknown candidates.
    The next contests are all in states where conditions seem to favor Obama. If most of the victories go to Obama for the next month, the Texas and Ohio primaries in early March become must wins for Clinton. The electorate in those states favors Clinton, if Obama manages to win one of those convincingly, and he will have time to engage in the in-person campaigning which seems to work for him, the odds are that he will wind up with the nomination. If she holds on to her lead, then you are more likely to see two strong candidates with about the same number of delegates at the convention.
    There are all kinds of mostly bad scenarios that could result from that.
    Edwards could play a decisive role, if he chooses to. Both the Ohio (March 4th) and Pennsylvania (April 22) contests are in states that contain lots of voters that Edwards appealed to. His endorsement and active campaign in support of one of the remaining two candidates could help them to post victories in those two states.
    As I look at it Obama retains the opportunity to win his way to the nomination, either by capturing enough delegates or by using the contests to demonstrate the superiority of his candidacy against McCain.
    Barring a dramatic change in the mood of the elctorate or a mistake by Obama, Clinton can not win her way to the nomination and she can only demonstrate to the super delegates that she held on to a small portion of her lead. That is not a story line I would want to be spinning to the super delegates.
    So if you haven’t been to your local betting shop, now might be the time to do so.

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