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Tale of Two Campaigns

July 21, 2007

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Why you can write off John Edwards but not John McCain

It is impossible for anyone who is interested in politics to miss, on either side of the Atlantic, all the hysteria in the press (and the consequent gloating from both extremes of the blogosphere) about the recent blip in the fortunes of the McCain camp. Despite the fact that this ‘blip’ might be already helping McCain to clear the deadwood and glory hunters from his campaign staff, pundits are already making jokes such as ‘John Edwards’ poverty tour visits the McCain campaign’. Ironically, as few observers have already pointed out, McCain and Edwards are in similar positions in terms of amounts of money raised and positions in their respective contest (though Edwards is tied with an undeclared Gore in some polls). Given that Edwards’ place on the 2004 ticket would have made him the Democratic frontrunner in previous years the lack of media comment about Edwards’ implosion is rather perplexing.

Another irony is that Edwards and McCain used to hold similar positions. At the time of the 2004 primaries they both supported war in Iraq and were known for being concerned about the level of inequality in American society. However, while McCain’s move to the right on economic issues has been mainly rhetorical (indeed McCain voted for the minimum wage this year for the first time in his life) Edwards’ decision to become an extremely vocal anti-war candidate has demonstrate that his original decision to support the war was purely opportunistic (as Shrum’s memoirs confirm). At the same time Edwards’ message on inequality has been undermined by the revelations of his expensive (and rather effeminate) taste in hair care. Finally, although Elizabeth’s Edwards’ decision to stand up to Ann Coulter may have taught Coulter a long overdue lesson in civility, the fact is that people expect the candidate to stand up for his/her spouse, rather than the other way round.

However, the most decisive factor that will ensure that Edwards is unable to escape from his single digit ghetto in the polls is the fact that there is plenty of competition for the anti-war vote in the Democrat primaries. Instead of gaining by his reversal it seems that Edwards (like Richardson) has turned himself from a centrist alternative to Clinton and Obama to just another candidate. Indeed, given how vociferously Edwards now opposes the war and demands an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he has generated amazingly little traction in either the more left leaning of the print media or even in with the (self-styled) ‘activist base’, who have both been seduced by Barack Obama or made their peace with Hillary Clinton. Indeed, if you type ‘John Edwards’ into the search function of Daily Kos (a very good source for gauging the mood of what antiwar Democrats are thinking) you get 23 stories in the last four weeks compared with 33 stories for Obama and 54 stories about Clinton. Ironically, McCain merits the most posts out of the field of Republican candidates (closely followed by Romney and Giuliani) suggesting that the left wing of the Democratic party still implicitly views him as the biggest threat in 2008.

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