Wednesday, November 22, 2006

John Edwards Looking Strong for 2008

Hillary Clinton still may be the presumed frontrunner for the 2008 Dem nomination, but it's John Edwards who has the hot hand heading into the heavier campaign season next year.

A recent CNN poll (via The Fix) asked registered Dem voters who they would most likely support for the presidential nomination in 2008. Here's who topped the list:

Hillary Clinton - 33 percent
Barack Obama - 15 percent
John Edwards - 14 percent
Al Gore - 14 percent

No other potential candidate received more than 7 percent.

While Edwards is just tied for third, digging a little deeper into the results demonstrates Edwards' strength.

After asking respondents who they preferred for the nomination, CNN asked them who they would consider supporting out of the list of these potential candidates (respondents could choose more than one): Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Al Gore, and John Kerry.

On this question, Edwards tops the list with 44 percent, Gore comes in second with 42 percent, Clinton third with 39 percent, Kerry fourth with 38 percent, and -- somewhat surprisingly -- Obama fifth with only 35 percent.

But, truth be told, these national polls can only tell so much about a candidate's chances for winning the nomination. After all, it isn't a national vote the picks the nominee. Instead, winning the nomination is very much hinged on how well a candidate does in the early primary season. Nominees who can pull off a string of wins in the early primaries often garner enough national attention to boost their nationwide popularity and acceptance as the candidate of choice.

And when it comes to strength in the early primaries, no one on the left is as well-positioned at this point as Edwards.

For starters, Edwards is hugely popular in Iowa. In a Des Moines Register poll taken over the summer, Edwards led the pack of possible Dem candidates with 30 percent, while Clinton came in second at 26 percent.

But what stands out even more, however, is the way Iowans favor Edwards more than the other potential Democratic contenders. When asked how they felt about Edwards, 83% responded that they either have a "very favorable" (42%) or "mostly favorable" (41%) impression of him. That’s a lot of love. Clinton, by contrast, scored 71 percent on the favorability scale.

After Iowa, the next three primaries are Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. By all accounts, the inclusion of Nevada in the early Dem primary season was a boon for Edwards. The former North Carolina senator has strong ties to the powerful labor unions in that state, which will prove immensely useful in campaigning, particularly considering the short amount of time between the Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire primaries.

In 2004, there were eight days between the first two primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2008, however, there will be only five days between Iowa (Jan. 14) and Nevada (Jan. 19), and then only another three days between Nevada and New Hampshire (Jan. 22). The South Carolina primary will come one week after New Hampshire, around January 29, and the rest will start after February 5.

With a shorter amount of time between the primaries, candidates will not have as much of an opportunity to ramp up support just prior to the subsequent primary, as they did in the past. Instead, a strong base of support will be key, and that's exactly what Edwards has done the most to create in Nevada.

New Hampshire could be a tough one for Edwards since it's closer to Clinton's territory, but South Carolina is a virtual lock for Edwards. It's not only his home state, but he also is the defending champ there after winning it in 2004 by 15 percentage points.

That means that Edwards is in a good position to pull off three of the first four Dem primaries, in spite of the fact that Clinton currently leads him in the nationwide polls. When you add to that the fact that more people could see themselves supporting Edwards than any of the other candidates, it makes him one strong contender.

I've said in the past that I support Edwards as the Dem nominee. It's not that I wouldn't support others; it's that I think Edwards has the right message. In short, rather than crafting a centralized theme that comes on the terms of the right, as many Dems have done in recent years (e.g., "John Kerry, reporting for duty!"), Edwards has crafted one that harks back to the roots of Democratic support: It's the economy, stupid.

But even more specific than that, Edwards' message focuses on poverty. And he tackles the issue in a way that flips the red state-blue state dichotomy used so well by Republicans on its head. The conservative ascendancy of the last 30 years worked hard to provide the public with a perception that Democrats were elitist and Republicans were with the masses (how else can the New England reared, Ivy League educated, rich beyond belief current president play it off like he's in touch with "common folk"?).

In essence, the goal of the conservative movement was to make class a cultural entity. This is the basic point of Thomas Frank's popular book, What's the Matter with Kansas?

What Edwards does is strive to re-affirm the economic core of class. He puts it on his website like he did numerous times on the stump in 2004: "There are two different Americas in our country today -- one for those at the top who get everything they want, and another for everybody else who struggles just to get by." In other words, the divisions that exist in America are defined by income level, not by cultural or social interests.

This isn't to say that Dem candidates shouldn't have a strong message on defense and foreign policy -- they absolutely should. But that doesn't mean that message needs to be the central theme of their campaign.

Edwards gets that.


Blogger Minor Ripper said...

I gotta say, this business about Obama being a serious 2008 candidate is all a fantasy. Perhaps VP, but there is 0 chance he is our next pres. All this talk is for his book and for the media to sell newspapers (or get viewers)...

November 27, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for your comment. The Fix has an interesting post today that suggests Obama may be more serious about a run than many think.

At this point, though, it's all speculation at best.

November 28, 2006  

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