No Mystery About Edwards

This, I think, is a bit peculiar. By choosing to take public financing and go dark between sewing up the nomination, should Edwards win, and the Democratic convention, the Edwards campaign is threatening to take the Democratic Party back to the bad old days of financial inequality with Republicans. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, represents a real departure from that era, having raised more money from more people than any other campaign during the first two quarters. Further, there is no sign that the major 527 groups that tried to make up the fiscal difference between the parties in 2004 — America Coming Together, the Media Fund, and so on — are going to be around in 2008, meaning that there will be fewer, not more, outside groups able to defend the new Democratic contender from GOP attack during the months before the convention. And the Edwards campaign knows this.

“Were not aware of 527s that are doing anything now on anybody’s side in the primary,” said Trippi on the call. “And we are not going to encourage them.”

What, exactly, is the Edwards campaign trying to do then? The latest poll from Iowa, the one state that Edwards must win to gain enough momentum to launch a viable national campaign, showed Obama in the lead among likely caucus-goers — though with a 7 percent margin of error — and Edwards in third.

The John Edwards campaign just held a conference call announcing its respectable but not Clinton or Obama-level expected third quarter fundraising total of $7 million and further explaining its thinking on the question of taking public matching funds for the primary, which will bring in roughly $10 million more. From the sound of what senior adviser Joe Trippi and deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince had to say, the campaign is moving in a direction of intensifying its anti-Washington argument as a way of trying to draw sharper distinctions between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, taking advantage of the recent Norman Hsu fundraising scandal and Clinton’s defense of lobbyists to portray her as part of “the corroded busted rigged system of Washington,” as Trippi described it.

“We don’t believe the Clinton campaign has a deep and abiding interest in having this election framed around money,” he said.

In contrast they took a softer line towards Obama. In consideration of this, 

a) the Edwards campaign is irresponsibly punting on the question of being able to win a general election until it can get through the primary, despite stakes that couldn’t be higher for the nation, and has private data that shows Clinton to be its major competitor (call that one the Markos theory); b) the Edwards campaign is making a short-term tactical mistake by ignoring the impending Obama threat while taking on Clinton; or c) Edwards is a person of principle who sees in the Obama campaign more of what he would like in the White House, and is going to go down in such a way as to try to take Clinton with him.

I would like c to be the case, but I have little doubt that theory a comes closest if the campaign is viewed from Edwards’ perspective. As of September, Edwards’ campaign was collapsing and he appeared to have little chance to win the nomination. Edwards obviously realized that if he cannot win the nomination, his chances of being elected president fall to zero.  Like Kerry in 2003, he realized it was time for desperation measures to remain viable for the nomination. While Kerry was willing to put his own money on the line, Edwards saw public funds as his way to be more competitive in Iowa. This does place Edwards in a situation where if he wins the nomination he will probably lose the general election, but there is a chance at victory. Any chance of becoming president is better than the zero chance he would have if he lost the general election. Besides, even a losing campaign puts him in the history books with a chance of popularity at a later date as Al Gore has experienced. Unfortunately this calculation leaves the Democrats in the position of risking the nomination on someone with a poor shot at winning the general election.

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