Friday, January 23, 2004

No Bump for Edwards

According to all of the 2700 tracking polls in New Hampshire, North Carolina Senator John Edwards hasn't gotten much of a post-Iowa boost. He's up some, but he's still running a fairly distant fourth.

On the night of the Iowa Caucuses, I wrote that the key decision of the Edwards campaign would be: NH or SC? (Yes, I know what it means when columnists start quoting themselves, but this is different, this is blogging!) The idea being that he (Edwards) could basically concede NH to Kerry and let the story be: Clark's Demise. Or he could try to ride his Almost Big Mo from Iowa to a second-place finish in NH and set up SC as a Kerry vs. Edwards showdown with homefield advantage.

Edwards appears to have sort of split the difference -- he's campaigning in SC and NH. This is a mistake. He had to do one or the other. Last Monday, I was of the view that he should hit NH hard and come what may. But it's becoming clear that he would have been well-advised to write off New Hampshire and make his stand in South Carolina. Unless there's a dramatic shift in the templates, Edwards is going to finish well back in the pack in NH, which is going to diminish him in SC. Another homeboy who couldn't cut it up North.

The thing that no one anticipated (I certainly didn't) was the way Dean has hung around as a story. He's finished politically, but the People Magazine-ization of politics has enabled him to stay in as a journalistic force, a consumer of coverage. How else to explain Diane Sawyer's interview with Dean on ABC last night? When is the last time a network devoted prime time coverage to a primary candidate who everyone in the world knows is a goner? I got an email from a guy in Iraq this morning who asked me if I thought Dean would get out before or right after the New Hampshire primary. He's in Baghdad!

But there it is. The Rule of Two (the media can only organize their coverage in terms of two-person races) has prevailed again. It's still Kerry and Dean getting the ink and the airtime. The others wither from lack of attention. Edwards's decision to campaign in New Hamsphire and South Carolina this week may prove to be the major tactical mistake of the Democratic nomination process.