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.
And does anyone in his camp do research? Surely someone could have checked his records last summer before he signed up to be the union-sponsored “Wake Up Wal-Mart” poster boy. Had they just checked his Senate financial records, they would have known he owned stock in Wal-Mart from at least1999 thru 2003.
All of this goes to an overall character issue that undermines his overall message and his overall persona. He is not paying attention to the growing image of himself.
Edwards built his fortune on representing the little guy in court; he obviously was successful at it. Can he translate that success into a populist message for low-income Americans, and will they buy the messenger?
Up to now, Edwards’ biggest media moments have been about personal tragedy or personal excess. Says one Democratic wag who actually likes him: “I have always thought that Edwards was the guy that was most likely to emerge. I still do … I just cannot figure out what his strategy is … right now he is running the least credible, least authentic campaign out there.”