Why John Edwards Is In Trouble In Iowa

Yesterday, I wrote about John Edwards' slippage in Iowa. Normally, I do not take great stock in polls this far out (yes, it is still too far out to take polls too seriously), especially the famously difficult to poll Iowa Caucus. My reasons for thinking the latest Iowa poll was not so much the numbers, as the fact that Edwards has dropped while Obama has risen since the end of July. Edwards now lacks a POSITIVE narrative for his candidacy for the critical last phases of the campaign. He has become the "attack Hillary" candidate (as opposed to being the Not Hillary candidate, the position he has now ceded without a shot to Barack Obama.)

At MYDD, Jerome Armstrong sees it differently:

Chiming in, it's great that the pollsters are now adding whether the voters attended the 2004 caucuses or not . . . I would tend to bank more on those that caucused in '04 . . .

With due respect to Jerome, I think he misses a very important point here, on the night of the caucus, the differences between previous caucus goers and first timers is simply not that great - both in choices and participation. For example, in 2004, the entrance polling showed:

Kerry won the initial preference of first-time caucus-goers, while Edwards and Dean roughly tied for second in this group. (First-timers made up 55 percent of participants, up from 46 percent in 2000.) . . .

Here's my point, the John Edwards campaign is looking more and more like the Gephardt campaign of 2004. He is supposed to have union support, experienced caucus goers, etc. He has gone strongly negative against the perceived frontrunner. He is not a new face for Iowa, thus the change argument is difficult for him in terms of actually being a new candidate.

Most importantly, in my opinion, his dominant narrative now is one of a candidate whose campaign is dominated by personal attacks against the perceived frontrunner. Like Gephardt.

Unlike Kerry in 2004, or Edwards 2004 for that matter, there is no positive narrative for the Edwards campaign now. There is no doubt he can hurt Hillary (or Obama if he chooses to shoot in that direction), but he now has reached the point where he can not help his own campaign.

And this campaign choice by Edwards is utterly perplexing. He was very viable in Iowa. He had a positive agenda. He was NOT in a two person race, the only ones where negative attacks can work (driving up your own negatives is a necessary part of a campaign of attacks, the hope is you drive up your opponents' negatives even further.)

I think it is clear now that the Presidential race is a two person race in that only two people can win now. I think Edwards can not. And he did it to himself. The most baffling campaign decision I can remember.

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    Edwards acted like he was running for President of (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Geekesque on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 12:11:25 PM EST
    the Netroots or blogosphere.  Turns out that doesn't work in Iowa (ask Howard Dean).

    Interesting... (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by BDB on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 06:09:52 PM EST
    that Edwards earlier today took Obama's side in his spat with Clinton, with Edwards accusing Clinton of mudslinging for going after Obama.  Why he would do this is beyond me.  Wouldn't he be better off going after both of them for making ridiculous arguments, noting they're voting records are essentially the same, and then arguing he's the only real candidate for change?

    I think Edwards is probably still fairly strong in Iowa, but Richardson has now almost caught him in NH.  Clinton has dropped, but Obama and Richardson have picked up almost all of the slack.  Taking Clinton down only helps Edwards if Obama also falters.

    It makes me wonder if something hasn't happened to make Edwards dislike Clinton on a personal level. I didn't get that feeling early on, but lately he seems more interested in attacking her than in making the case for himself and he does have a case to make for himself.

    Ugh! (none / 0) (#11)
    by BDB on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 06:12:49 PM EST
    It should be "their voting records"                      

    Cool (none / 0) (#1)
    by Maryb2004 on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 11:39:32 AM EST
    Jerome agreed with me.

    And I agree with you completely on Edwards losing his narrative.

    But it's too soon to say he's completely out of it.  

    I agree with Markos (none / 0) (#3)
    by Maryb2004 on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 01:48:57 PM EST
    As for me, I think it's folly to try and predict the caucuses, especially with three strong contenders all looking pretty good and the caucus date within "New Year's Eve hangover" territory. And none look too solid. Edwards is on a slight downward trajectory. Both Hillary and Obama get big support from voters who haven't previously attended a caucus. Obama is depending on the potentially less reliable youth vote. Does anyone know where Richardson voters will go after their guy loses? Old people seem to be breaking for Biden, who will be their second choice?

    Nobody knows how changing the caucus date so that it follows on the heels of the holidays will affect things.  I don't think you should count any of the top three out yet.  


    Booman replies directly to this post in Kos diary (none / 0) (#4)
    by magster on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 02:18:35 PM EST

    I guess between the two views, I agree with BTD. The only thing that makes sense to me is that Edwards sincerely thinks Hillary is bad for the country, damn the consequences to himself.  

    should say "only makes sense if we assume... (none / 0) (#5)
    by magster on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 03:14:42 PM EST
    ...Edwards knows what he's doing."

    Nonsense (none / 0) (#6)
    by SFHawkguy on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 03:20:52 PM EST
    He has to make the case that Hillary is wrong for the party and the country. She is the most right-wing candidate and would be a disaster to Democrats.  She is being allowed to paper over her right-wing credentials and her known propensity to give in and appease right-wingers.  Someone has to point this out to people that are being lulled to sleep by the fact she is quick on her feet and would be the first woman president.

    Edwards is one person that can pull off a negative campaign in Iowa.  He is polite but forceful and has the facts on his side (Hillary way to the right of most Iowans).  

    I personally believe Dean lost Iowa for a variety of reasons.  The main reason in my mind was bringing in a bunch of people from California, having them put on orange hats and then going door to door.  The Dean campaign began to symbolize an out of state protest vote that was hard for Iowans to associate with.  

    Iowans will be much more comfortable associating themselves with Edwards and an anti Hillary campaing.

    Why the 2004 analogy might not hold (none / 0) (#7)
    by alexmh17 on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 03:29:01 PM EST
    I think you're missing something with the Gephardt comparisions. In Iowa, its still retail politics and Edwards is a master of it. If you ever actually see him live, its hard to imagine anything negative coming out of his mouth. Look this guy made a lot of money by being a very good trial lawyer. You don't do that by alienating juries. He can articulate voters' frustration w/o souding frustrated himself. The talking heads on CNN and MSNBC looking for a story might decide that Edwards is being "negative", but the thousands of Democrats in Iowa who have seen him in action are unlikely to come to the same conclusion. I'd argue that Edwards is writing the script on how to go negative w/o drawing negative attention to himself, something Obama still needs to learn.  

    The polls on the Iowa Caucus are usually wrong. (none / 0) (#8)
    by JSN on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 03:52:29 PM EST
    If they get it right this year it will be dumb luck. A third of the people who attended our precinct caucus in 2004 registered to vote at the caucus and two thirds had never attended a caucus before. So much for registered voters who are likely to attend the caucus.

    I have been participating in the Iowa caucus since 1968 and polling is a pain-in-the rear so when the pollsters call me I hang up. Some candidates have learned that people are fed up with robo-calls and they only use them to announce they will be in town.

    Don't ask me how any of the candidates are doing in my precinct because I have no clue.

    Edwards (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jgarza on Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 04:21:49 PM EST
    I don't think Edwards cant win because he is attacking Hillary, he was never able to win.  He is a weak candidate, his numbers have been going down since Barack and Hillary announced.  He has been in Iowa for four years, it was supposed to be in the bag. He is desperate, thats why he is going after Hillary, he has never been a viable candidate.  Not attacking Hillary isn't going to help him. What was he supposed to do repeat his very tired son of a mill worker story?