advice from a fake consultant

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Monday, January 28, 2008

On The Endgame, Or, Whither Goes Edwards?

As of this writing, four states have made their Democratic Presidential candidate preferences known; and for most voters the choices seem to be coming down to Obama or Clinton.

Which has not been so good for the John Edwards campaign.

While it is theoretically possible that he might yet surprise us all and garner the nomination, for the purposes of today’s discussion I’m going to assume that he won’t.

If that’s true, and the nomination is out, what might Edwards have in mind going forward?

I can’t say for certain...but that won’t keep me from guessing...which is what this discussion is all about.

The first place to start seems to be to identify what possibilities are open to Edwards, walk through each of those scenarios in turn, and see if we can’t gain some knowledge through the process.

So other than winning the whole thing, what might his options be?
I see five possibilities:

He could seek a deal to advance his personal or political interests, or to advance a particular cause.

He could remain in the contest, not with the intent of winning, but with the intent of denying victory to another.

He could seek another office. For example, he might run against Elizabeth Dole for Senator from North Carolina.

He could seek an Al Gore-like status in the political community by seeking to create a movement that outlasts this electoral cycle...essentially making him a “transelectional” political figure. (Another variant on this theme would leave Edwards as a sort of “public lobbyist” leading a “Two Americas” PAC.)

He could withdraw from the election into private sector employment, or some version of retirement.

Now let’s examine each of these scenarios in detail:

--First, the potential for dealmaking. When considering the possibilities here we have to ask two questions: who, from the Edwards point of view, has the most to offer in a potential deal; and which of the other candidates has the most to gain from an alliance with Edwards?

While the most likely choice for Edwards from a philosophical perspective would be Obama, I would suggest that ship has probably sailed (although there are rumors that suggest otherwise). South Carolina’s results suggest Obama has little to gain from Edwards except support among white males—but Obama was more successful at attracting white males than the Clintons.

If a backlash develops against the Clinton campaign tactics on February 5th, the advantage would likely continue to be Obama’s among most groups except possibly Hillary’s older white female base, with the biggest question being whether Obama can sustain his levels of younger voter turnout.

If Edwards remains in the campaign, and he were to retain the white male voter advantage as he did in South Carolina, this would suggest Obama can win without a deal with Edwards—assuming the manner of delegate distribution is somewhat similar to the vote counts. In this scenario I assume Superdelegates are primarily committed between Obama and Clinton, leaving Edwards little influence in how they are distributed.

If all of the above is true, that leads me to believe that the candidate with the most to gain from an alliance with Edwards might actually be Hillary. Consider that such a match would align older white females with white males. There is also the potential for the Clintons to access Hispanic and Asian votes (California and New York...) that are not currently aligned with Obama, potentially creating a 50% + 1 victory. The Clinton campaign could certainly combine their current message with the Edwards message in synergistic ways.

What might Edwards gain from such a deal? The most likely result would be a commitment to advance the “Two Americas” brand and program in a Clinton Administration. He could presumably negotiate a Cabinet position...especially in these days before February 5th as the Clintons do whatever they must to try to “lock out” Obama from the nomination.

Would he be willing to make such a deal? I have no idea...but I’ll bet the Clintons would.

--Would Edwards remain in the race to deny victory to another? I am not in a position to give a certain answer, but we can offer a flight of imagination to examine: if Edwards tried to make a deal with Obama, but such a deal could not be concluded, or if Edwards was unwilling to make a deal with any candidate...then the South Carolina results suggest Edwards could continue to siphon off enough voters (and delegates) to keep Hillary off the podium at the Convention.

Could Edwards, just by hanging around, deny Obama the nomination? Statistical probability suggests Obama cannot count on the support of younger voters to the extent he has up to this point. There will be smaller percentages of Black voters in future primaries than there were in South Carolina. With this in mind, such a possibility is certainly not beyond contemplation.

In order for all this to be successful, Edwards would need to retain his current level of support or improve upon it in the immediate future.

As I say, I can’t offer an opinion as to the probability of this set of explanations, but the potential for such actions is there.

--Might Edwards decide at this point to run for another office? Dennis Kucinich has left the race for the Presidency to concentrate on gaining re-election to Congress, and it is possible that Edwards might choose such a path for himself as well.

His very own North Carolina would be the perfect place for such a move—Senator Elizabeth Dole is a weak re-election candidate in this cycle with no “star” Democrat having yet emerged in opposition. If Edwards were to withdraw and place the bulk of his current resources into a Senatorial race he would be far better financed than Dole, with equal or better name recognition and a better record for this cycle...not to mention that Dole has no real weapon to use against Elizabeth Edwards, should the two of them choose to run against Dole.

--Does Edwards find his future as a transelectional figure? There is evidence to support the proposition that he could. Here’s what we know: First, there is today an organization called One Corps that is operated in parallel with the Edwards campaign; and it is dedicated to providing a place for volunteer activists to gather in an effort to alleviate some of the disparities addressed by the “Two Americas” discussion.

It is not difficult to imagine Edwards travelling around the nation addressing One Corps events and giving a “Two Americas” presentation that over time has an effect similar to Al Gore’s not-so-quixotic journey giving the “Inconvenient Truth” lectures...and it’s not so tough to picture Edwards linking up with Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, Bono, and others, to take the whole thing international—essentially creating an worldwide “People’s PAC” that could influence policy here and abroad around the growing “Two Worlds” question.

--Might Edwards simply leave the race as other Democrats have done? As of today the Edwards camp seems determined to continue the journey, presumably seeking a role to play either in this phase of the campaign, in the runup to the convention, or at the convention itself.

If this continues to be true, it suggests that Edwards is more likely to remain than to withdraw, as long as he has access to resources...and as long as neither Clinton nor Obama do something so odious as to make Edwards feel he can no longer deny the other his support.

And with all that said, it’s probably time to sum it up:

--It is entirely possible that either Edwards or one of the other candidates might be seeking a deal.

--It is also possible that Edwards will not be making any deals, but is remaining in the contest to deny another the nomination.

--Edwards might seek another elective office, and opportunity exists today in North Carolina.

--He might choose to advance causes he finds important beyond this electoral cycle by enlarging the One Corps structure or something similar.

--He might simply withdraw into retirement or private sector employment. My own “guesstimation” is that he will be unlikely to do so when the option of One Corps already exists--and offers an excellent “fallback” position for a potential ’10 or ‘12 campaign cycle candidate with no particular contest yet identified.

All of this is contingent on Elizabeth Edwards’ health status, I suspect; and an unfortunate change in her current relatively good health could alter all of these calculations dramatically.

And I think, for the moment, that’s where we stand: at a currently unknown point in the Edwards endgame that may become far more clear after the February 5th delegates are counted...or it may become far more muddied, to the delight of every political pundit in the country.

In about eight days, we’ll find out.


CityUnslicker said...

JE is finished - snakeoil salesman that he is!

fake consultant said...

i have to tell you that you present two thoughts in your comment; and there may be points of disagreement to both.

here's what i mean:

"JE is finished"

i would be very surprised if that's true--at the moment he has "juice" as an endorsement; but he also has the potential to stay politically visible through the "one corps" project..and if you'll recall, such an approach has kept al gore quite politically viable as he has developed his environmental power base.

edwards has the potential of doing the same thing around "two americas"; and a significant recession between now and the '10 congressional elections will elevate the status of such an issue greatly.

as for "snakeoil salesman that he is":

what was he selling? the idea that the us economy is on the wrong track? the idea that more americans are living in poverty? that our educational system is falling behind? that a few were seeing nearly all the benefit of the past 20 years of growth, while most of us, in real terms, are falling farther behind?

all of that is far from snake oil.

as for his solutions: 70% of us do not support the war, a majority want health care reform, and a large majority feel we are "on the wrong track".

this suggests to me he either failed to communicate his message well, or his solutions were too radical for a majority...and that's not something we'll really be sure about until we see how other candidates change their positions in response to his absence...and how the voters react to those changes.