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Many states still listed Edwards on the ballot — as well as the names of other candidates who had withdrawn.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 And these are votes for a candidate who has withdrawn from the race.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.