Until Tuesday, the Clinton campaign has argued that Barack Obama and John Edwards were engaged in some kind of unfair, two-against-one fight against her. The campaign has decried the "politics of pile on," Bill Clinton has complained that "the boys" were ganging up on his wife, and Hillary Clinton herself argued in New Hampshire that Edwards and Obama had aligned themselves in "a buddy system" against her.
Take Edwards out of the equation, and it's hard to run on that kind of victim narrative. More important, if you take Edwards out of the equation, our money says the stunning but narrow victory Clinton won in New Hampshire becomes something that looks a lot more like the defeat that almost everyone was expecting. Clinton beat Obama by about 8,000 votes in New Hampshire. Edwards, finishing third, drew about 48,000. Assuming that Clinton is right in arguing that Obama and Edwards are aligned against her -- and also assuming that race isn't the controlling factor here -- doesn't it stand to reason that an overwhelming majority of Edwards' supporters would have voted for Obama rather than for Clinton if Edwards hadn't been in the race?
Edwards says he isn't going anywhere, and his campaign is looking ahead to South Carolina, the state where he was born and where he won in 2004. "Up until now, one-half of 1 percent of the country has voted," Edwards said last night in Manchester. "Ninety-nine percent plus have not voted, and we need to hear from them."
That's certainly a fair argument. But as long as he's in, the man who has finished behind Obama twice may be keeping Clinton more competitive than she otherwise would be. Maybe that's OK by him, but it suggests that the Clinton campaign should be cautious about pretending that he's already gone.