Edwards Sputtering; Richardson Moves Into Third in New Hampshire

Following the results of poll by University of New Hampshire Survey Center for CNN, WMUR TV in New Hampshire has reported “John Edwards’ support is sputtering. He has gone from an early front-runner to fourth in the race for the Democratic nomination.” Bill Richardson has pulled into third place in New Hampshire, consistent with my recent reports of increased strength by Richardson in several of the early caucus and primary states.

It is far too early to write off Edwards, especially seeing how John Kerry came back after his campaign appeared to be similarly sputtering in 2003. While still possible for Edwards to make a come back, the analogy to 2004 can be better seen with Richardson than Edwards. Like Kerry, Richardson has been running a stealth campaign on the ground in the early states which was often missed by the media. I’m still not willing to predict Richardson can win Iowa as some have, but his momentum in the early caucus and primary states is impressive. Edwards’ problem remains that anything short of a victory in Iowa ends his campaign, and even a win in Iowa does not mean his populist message will be accepted by New Hampshire voters.

Passing an empty suit will likely turn out to be far easier for Richardson than passing Obama and Clinton, but having Richardson as opposed to Edwards as the number three guy on their tail would change the complexion of the race. With Edwards in the race, even Obama appears experienced by comparison. Having more attention paid to Richardson’s resume could turn experience into an issue. While Obama and Clinton could easily ignore Edwards’ proposals as more material for The Onion than a platform for a serious campaign, Richardson could force Clinton and Obama to back away from ideas which could be branded “tax and spend” liberalism. Just as George Bush’s “big government conservativism” has redefined the Republican Party, should Richardson run on a platform of “small government liberalism” he could change perceptions of the Democratic Party. This could represent a more serious problem for Hillary Clinton as Obama has shown an ability lacking in Clinton to look beyond the traditional Democratic special interests.

The poll shows a similar trend in both the Democratic and Republican races. Both Edwards and McCain showed early strength due to name recognition from 2004 and 2000, and both are now struggling as newer candidates are becoming better known. McCain has dropped from first place in New Hampshire earlier in the race to fourth. Nationwide, None of The Above has taken the lead in the Republican race. That’s certainly my choice when looking at the current GOP candidates.

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