Published: Feb 06, 2008 07:13 AM
Modified: Feb 06, 2008 07:13 AM
He almost pulled it off
One on One
Are we going stop for just a moment to assess the meaning of the historic moment for North Carolina -- the one that just passed us by?I am thinking about last week's surgically neat and quick ending of John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign.One minute it was "full steam" to the end. Then, it was over and the best chance since the Civil War -- no, the best chance ever -- to have a North Carolina resident become president of the United States had officially passed by.By the time it happened, it was not a surprise, even for most of Edwards' strongest supporters.Now that it is over, and with hindsight, some observers are saying, "He never really had a chance. So, there is no point in spending much effort in mourning the lost cause."Did Edwards really have no chance to win the presidency this time? It is easy enough to say "no" right now. It is easy enough to criticize his campaign's strategy for concentrating so much of Edwards' effort over the past several years in Iowa. The campaign put most, if not quite all, its eggs in that Iowa basket. Anticipating that Hillary Clinton would be the leading Democratic candidate, Edwards counted on a win or very strong showing in Iowa to make him the "only real alternative" to her and give him the momentum and the resources to compete in the primaries across the country. Edwards did beat Clinton in Iowa. But when Barack Obama beat both of them, Obama emerged as the "only real alternative." So the campaign's Iowa strategy did not work for Edwards. However, what the results in Iowa and the developments in the Democratic presidential selection progress show, I think, is that it very well could have worked -- if Barack Obama had not run for president.Edwards' campaign can be forgiven for not anticipating Obama and the enormous appeal he had to many voters who might otherwise have supported Edwards. Few people saw Obama's appeal translating into a serious contender.Obama's success in Iowa, however, proved the Edwards campaign correct in its belief that a victory over Clinton by an attractive, articulate advocate for change could give that candidate a tremendous boost. If Obama had not run, Edwards would almost certainly have been the attractive, articulate advocate in the eyes of the Iowa caucus goers. He could have gotten the "Iowa boost" that went to Obama.In other words, Edwards' Iowa strategy was a good one. It could have worked and put Edwards on the path to nomination.Another criticism of Edwards' campaign goes like this: He left his North Carolina moderate roots behind. Even if he had won the nomination, he would have been "too liberal" to win the general election.Was this decision to court the "Democratic left" unwise? Maybe, but it is not uncommon for Democratic candidates to campaign to the left in the primary contests and then shift a little bit to the right once the primary is over.Had Edwards stayed in the race and won the nomination, he would have adjusted his themes to appeal to the middle of the road voters and follow the advice often given to other Democratic nominees when the primaries were over: "Quickly, get as far to the right as you can in good conscience." First, however, to win the nomination, Edwards had to "get as far to the left as he could in good conscience."Edwards' challenge was to move to the left, but not to go so far that he would come across as insincere. Here the campaign probably failed, at least in the short run. His campaign was dogged by the "3-H's" (the big House, the $400 Haircut, and the Hedge Fund job). The persistence of "3-H's" shows that the "sincerity" challenge was a continuing one, much more difficult to deal with than the "move to the left." But it was not insurmountable. Lots of politicians have gotten around a "sincerity challenge."Edwards' Iowa strategy and his move to the left were not mistakes -- he came a lot closer to pulling it all off than most people are ever going to understand.
D.G. Martin is the host of "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Check his blog and view prior programs at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/
2008 The Chapel Hill News