Salena Zito

During the lead-up to the 2004 Iowa Caucus, John Edwards was fond of saying that three tickets would be punched out of the state and he wanted to be one of those tickets.

Come caucus night, Howard Dean sagged, John Kerry held on, and Edwards surged, prompting him to thank Iowa for punching his ticket.

For Edwards, there has never been any doubt he would run again in 2008. So he kept his foot on caucus soil and spent four years devoting time, money and effort to Iowa.

Would have been a great strategy, had the primary landscape not changed.

The process has evolved from Iowa and New Hampshire as the “first-to” for primary voting to a heavily frontloaded, virtually national primary that crescendos on what is now known as Super-Duper Tuesday.

The problems staring down Edwards, as he now must nationalize his campaign, are numbers, image, message and money. Solve the image and message problems, and the numbers and money problems go away.

According to the averaged polling data compiled by RealClearPolitics, Edwards is still ahead in Iowa, but barely; his numbers have not moved, while Hillary Clinton’s have jumped to within 3 points of his once stellar lead.

The RealClearPolitics averages of the national polling data are worse. Those show that the only candidate Edwards is neck-and-neck with is the undeclared Al Gore.

Image and message collide for Edwards; they are at the heart of his failure to move in the polls. Who is he, and what is he trying to say? Is he the populist candidate who is going to end poverty?

Well, if he is, he’s got a whole lot of explaining to do.

Seriously, how can you talk about poverty when you’re building the largest house held in captivity?

Edwards talks about these “two Americas,” but how is he able to sell that to voters when he is getting $400 haircuts and going to a spa called Pink Sapphire? How does that square with where he is trying to build his political base?

It rings so phony that it has a televangelist quality to it.

While that metro-sexual image neuters his poverty position, how do his business dealings affect his pro-union, like-a-rock-pick-up-truck guy image? Again, a whole lot of explaining needs to come from Camp Edwards.

Just last week, the Washington Post revealed that Edwards was a consultant for a New York-based hedge-fund firm that enables its partners to defer or avoid paying U.S. taxes through off-shore accounts. The firm in question, Fortress, was also Edwards’s largest source of monetary support from a single company in the last quarter.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.