The shape of the two-man race


Geraldine Sealey
February 19, 2004 12:45AM (UTC)

John Edwards' campaign today says he's the only guy in the race with momentum. "A new national poll released yesterday shows that despite weeks of great coverage, John Kerry is dropping while Edwards is surging. Kerry's lead over Edwards was cut in half from 33 to 18 points in three days," the campaign literature boasts. (Here's the poll.)

"No doubt about it, the battle for the Democratic nomination is a horse race now," the campaign says. "And with two weeks left to Super Tuesday, Underdog Edwards is charging hard to the finish line. We've seen it happen time and again. When voters get a chance to know Edwards they ignore the pundits, they ignore the polls and they vote Edwards."

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What do political observers outside the Edwards camp think of his chances of ever becoming the new-new front-runner in the Democratic primary race? Here are three assessments:

Daniel Payne of MassInsider says Edwards is a man racing against the clock: "Running race rigged by DNC to knock out non-frontrunners early, he needs time to establish himself, which he doesn't have. Has less than two weeks and not much TV ad money to reach huge chunk of American real estate: CA, CT, GA, MA, MD, MN, NY, OH, RI, and VT. But media clearly like covering him. And he's using NAFTA against Kerry, blaming it for killing manufacturing jobs."

Does Edwards have a chance, asks Ruy Texeira. "Sure he does," he concludes. "Not a particularly good one, but a chance nonetheless. With his strong second in Wisconsin, he has defied expectations and damped Kerry's momentum, at least temporarily ... If Edwards can pick up a disproportionate amount of Dean's erstwhile support, that may help him turn this opening into a serious, rather than token, two person race (though note that in Wisconsin voters who said they had supported Dean in the past gave about the same number of votes to Edwards and Kerry)."

Edwards fared better among Independents than Democrats, and conservatives more than liberals. The Republicans who crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary went more for Edwards, too. And, note, in four Super Tuesday states -- Georgia, Ohio, Vermont and Minnesota -- voters can "crossover" parties to vote in the Democratic primary, as they did in Wisconsin.

Of the March 2 states, Tom Schaller says, Edwards will "carry Georgia with ease because Kerry will smartly concede that state in order to concentrate his resources and efforts making sure Edwards wins nowhere else. Edwards next best bet is probably Ohio, where the blue-collar job loss will affirm Edwards' message. He'll still need a third, significant win ... which just might be New York -- at first blush, a strange place for a Southern millworker's son to win. But anyone familiar with the post-industrial situation along the Upstate I-90 corridor between Albany to Buffalo -- including parts of the North Country region above, and the Southern Tier below -- knows that Edwards' message will resonate well Upstate. If Edwards can win GA, OH and squeak out any kind of win in NY, he stays alive for another week. And that would really shake things up because the four states and 460 delegates chosen on March 9 all come from Edwards-favorable states: Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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