CNN is reporting that John Edwards will drop out of the Democratic presidential primary race in a speech this afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, and will not endorse another candidate. Which means the two-person race the media has been pushing for a year between Clinton and Obama is now a reality. It also means that Edwards will not be playing kingmaker at the Democratic convention. The 26 delegates he has now won’t be enough to have any influence. The question is, which way do Edwards supporters go. (God forbid anybody actually poll them to find out).
The conventional wisdom is that there’s two groups of people in the Edwards camp, those who buy his message of fighting against the Washington establishment and will be unlikely to support Hillary Clinton, and those who are supporting him because he’s the white guy and will be unlikely to support Barack Obama. In other words, either Edwards is splitting the anti-Hillary vote or he’s splitting the white vote. I tend to think it’s the former, but perhaps not by much. Of the 15% of votes that Edwards is currently eating up, I’m guessing something like 9% of that goes to Obama and 6% to Clinton, which could maybe be pushed three points in either direction if Edwards endorses.
Though with that said, I guarantee you John Edwards knows exactly who he’s helping by dropping out of the race before Super Tuesday. There was speculation after Iowa that Edwards was staying in the race in order to collect enough delegates in each state to be the deciding factor at a potentially brokered convention between Clinton and Obama. Who he would give his delegates to was unknown, but it was assumed that they would come at the price of an attorney general position (or possibly another spot at the bottom of the Democratic ticket) for John Edwards. But what if Edwards realized that he would have more influence by dropping out before Super Tuesday?
Consider this scenario: In a secret closed-door meeting, Hillary Clinton comes to John Edwards and tells him that according to her pollsters, his presence in the race is overwhelmingly benefitting Barack Obama. So if Edwards will agree to drop out before Super Tuesday, she’ll guarantee him a spot in her cabinet. It would be a much surer thing than for Edwards to spend months (and money) collecting delegates and hoping for a brokered convention. What if he doesn’t get enough delegates to make a difference? What if the race is already decided by the convention and the delegates he’s spent months and millions collecting are worthless? By dropping out before Super Tuesday, Edwards exercises more influence over the race and potentially gives himself a better shot at an attorney general position than he would have had by staying in.
The fact is that John Edwards will never be elected president and probably will never be a senator again (he couldn’t get reelected to the Senate in his own home state, couldn’t carry the state for John Kerry in the 2004 general election, and could only win one county in the 2008 primary). And nobody knows all of that better than John Edwards. This race– which was a lost cause for him the moment he lost Iowa– was his last opportunity to get back into Washington. And even though his presidential bid is ending today, my guess is that his chances of being in Washington in 2009 just got a whole lot better.