Over the course of the coming weeks (months?), Kedar and I will be profiling major candidates seeking their parties’ nominations for the Presidency. You will be able to find all of these profiles in the new category “2008 Candidate Profiles.” We hope we might be able to explain what it would take for each of these guys (gals?) to secure the nomination, and, ultimately, the Oval Office. I will begin this series today with John Edwards (D-NC).
In 2004, Edwards secured 32% support among Iowa caucus-goers – a strong second to Kerry’s 39%. Edwards, unlike many of the other candidates, had gained substantial steam leading into late in the game. This victory over Dean (at 12%) secured him prodigious media attention, and he later proved to be the last major challenger to Kerry. He withdrew on Super Tuesday after poor showings in the east, and, of course, later lost the General Election to Bush/Cheney.
I believe Edwards, 54, will win the Iowa caucus in January (DailyWrit’s full timeline of the 2008 Primaries, Caucuses, and Conventions here). Even though Hillary has been closing the gap (see graph below), I think Edwards will prove more likeable and moderate to Iowans. The ultimate problem will come when Clinton wins Nevada and New Hampshire the following week, as I imagine she probably will. You can check our models below and draw your own conclusions (click each graph to enlarge via lightbox, or see my data here (.xls file) if you’re looking to save a copy of a graph):
What will it take for Edwards to win?
First, he should finish in the top two in each of the early primaries. This will force lesser candidates to withdraw and will earn him a second look from voters frustrated with the perennial choices.
Second, he needs to emphasize his unconventional healthcare plan.
Third, he needs to begin courting demographics. He’s well on his way after hiring Kate Michelman for women’s outreach.
Fourth, get a reputation as a moderate. This will be hard with a clear pro-choice agenda and copious senior staff that used to work for NARAL, but, hey! It’s possible. His position on gay marriage is a step in the direction of electable.
Fifth, be the immigration candidate. This could make the difference. It’s relatively easy to be the candidate of record on a particular issue. All it really takes is a link to the candidate’s stump speech (immigration blends beautifully with Edwards’ “two Americas”) and redundant attention in the debates. He desperately needs to be an economic authority, and part of that is understanding that the economy can’t be your soundbite (beautiful explanation here from Hang Right Politics). Part of this is also overcoming a reputation of “pandering” on the economy, discussed here by Michael Wilt.
Sixth, make a decision about the word “populist.” John, you might want to consult our friends at Below the Beltway for some suggestions.
Seventh, tell me something about you except that you don’t like poverty. Check Partisan Chaos for an amusing observation to this effect.
Eighth, don’t pretend like you know anything about Foreign Policy. It will backfire, Johnny. Trust me.
Further, I don’t think Edwards will be the Democratic VP nominee for several reasons. First, I think that Obama is the frontrunner for this position assuming Clinton or Gore wins the nomination. Second, DNC strategists may have a problem with the fact that they already tried that bit. Finally, Edwards is incapable of adding any regional or demographic diversity to a ticket. The exception to this rule may come if Obama is nominated. Both Obama and Edwards preach of a divide between our “two Americas,” and are more ideologically similar than any other pair of candidates. However, the improbablity of being considered for VP means Edwards can speak his mind about all the other candidates in debates and appearances, instead of waiting to attack as he did last year with Kerry. Also, an unfortunate variable to consider: Mrs. Edwards – who would be an absolutely fantastic First Lady – has breast cancer that the family calls “incurable.” This may pose a problem if her condition worsens later in the campaign, but I think all branches of the media (fake and real) join me in hoping that this doesn’t happen.
A part of this little exercise in prediction will be oddsmaking. Kedar and I conclude that Edwards’ chances of securing the nomination are 10% if Gore stays out and less than 5% if he decides to roll the dice.