Wednesday, March 3
John Edwards will end his bid on Wednesday afternoon and is expected to endorse John Kerry, in a speech thanking supporters at the high school in Raleigh that his late son attended.
On Tuesday night, Sen. Edwards did not wait for Minnesota’s returns, or even Georgia’s. Unusually punctual, he appeared at 8:04pm as advertised with a speech that said nothing about the race he ran, his intentions, or his feelings. Instead he went right into message, still stumping - perhaps with an eye toward the convention. His loss - and his decision - were apparently not a total surprise, since by the end of his concession speech, reporters were told the flight to Raleigh had been arranged, a venue had been chosen, and an e-mail to supporters had been sent which read, "John and Elizabeth Edwards will return home to share a special announcement with their family, friends and supporters."
Ever the happy warrior, the senator was cheerfully teasing reporters and staffers alike on the flight back to Raleigh, charming the press corps and poking fun at the campaign trail. When he and his staff retired to the front, it soon sounded like a party was under way. As we were settling in for the trip, Edwards made a joke out of a line from his speech: "I am so ready for this flight."
His generous praise for Kerry on Tuesday night may well further fuel the talk of a Kerry-Edwards ticket, even though while the senator was still a contender, he always dismissed such talk. They never seemed particularly close during the debates, especially Sunday’s testy contest, but they also never seriously attacked each other in their speeches or their ads. "They would be a very electable ticket," a voter in Cleveland told me Monday. "Formidable," said another. "North and south, good balance, their positions are similar but not identical," said another. But a third told me, with some disappointment, "I honestly don’t see Kerry picking Edwards."
In the meantime, however, it is back to normal. He is back at his house in Raleigh for the first time since Christmas - although it may feel a little different, now that a half-dozen secret service agents are surrounding it. After months of skipping almost every vote, Edwards may start working as a senator again in Washington, his increased stature offset by his lame duck status.
Democratic strategist Peter Fenn told me, "I think there are a number of people who, they run for president, they lose, they’re out of office, and they walk into the sunset. John Kerry’s victory tonight does not mean John Edwards walks off into the sunset. He’s only fifty. He may be in the Kerry administration."
In my opinion, Edwards is a very good communicator and a very good campaigner, and he is likeable to boot. "This is not a personality contest," he said in Sunday’s debate, but on the last day of 2003, he told an Iowa questioner, "you need a candidate who people find personally appealing, because that’s when they will listen to what you have to say."
Edwards is a very disciplined campaigner, frustratingly on-message when answering questions, and careful never to go beyond what he wants to say. He parses questions carefully, and answers with generalities and tautologies that are tantamount to saying, "because." He never uttered a gaff, unlike Howard Dean and the novice Wesley Clark.
Still, looking ahead to his possible future, he is untested compared to Kerry and Dean who, over the course of months as the frontrunners, were challenged with every possible charge the Republicans could find to throw. The Edwards background, in comparison, is relatively unexplored.
In October, campaign manager Nick Baldick laid out the campaign’s strategy in an interview. "I think you need to stay with a plan, and we’re doing that," he said. First half of 2003 raise money and write policy; third quarter introduction; fourth quarter policy; 2004 focus on electability and closing the deal. Finish respectably in Iowa and New Hampshire, where one candidate - Gephardt, Dean, or Kerry - will get knocked out each round. Then, on Feb. 3, "win South Carolina and do well in another state contest that day - before, one would have assumed that we would probably have faced John Kerry… we think it will be one person after Feb. 3."
Other political news of note
Obama reframes rules of engagement on terrorism
In a speech thought to be about drones, President Barack Obama laid out a marker in American foreign policy, and re-framed how the United States should go about fighting terrorism.
- IRS official Lerner placed on leave
- Heckler repeatedly interrupts Obama speech
- Immigration advocates steel for Senate slog
- Obama reframes counterterrorism policy with new rules on drones
- Obama reframes rules of engagement on terrorism
It is a strategy that changed remarkably little over the course of the campaign, in spite of external challenges, such as the rise of the internet, the breaking of spending caps, and the spate of negativity in early January. Even when Edwards, trailing in the single digits, was pressed to go on the offensive in order to score some visibility, the plan was not changed.
While other campaigns (especially Kerry and Dean) were busy switching their staffs, the Edwards campaign staff remained unchanged. In addition, there was little evidence of the kind of internal divisions over strategy or over vision that marked the Dean or the Clark staffs.
But while consistency can pay dividends, it also limits the flexibility needed to react to changing circumstances. For example, their one major mistake was not spending more time in Oklahoma instead of South Carolina. Constancy is also the choice of those who have no other options to try. But for a candidate who started with no name recognition, he managed to last far longer than Gephardt, Dean, Lieberman, or Clark. "He did extraordinarily well," says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. "He initially wasn’t given much of a chance, and after all he was the last man standing against Kerry."
Blaming external factors
Most of the problems were beyond the campaign’s control. The front-loaded primary system meant that a frontrunner’s momentum would accelerate in just the first few weeks. Wesley Clark eclipsed the Edwards kickoff by jumping into the race that very same day, and he denied Edwards strong showings in NH and OK by beating him by 1000 votes… only to drop out shortly thereafter.
The problem with this is that Edwards cannot blame outside factors for falling short of the nomination. Instead, if the problem is inexperience, lack of gravitas, and not appearing presidential, his exit from the senate (and criticism of time spent in Washington) limit his ability to do any better on a second try.
Edwards exits the race with several contributions: he put the economy and class war on the political agenda again; he made the other candidates less negative with each other; and he pushed the issues of poverty, civil rights, and class warfare onto the map, thanks to his populist and protectionist record.
On the trail
There is a remarkable transformation over the course of a campaign. Campaigning starts slow, with time to analyze policy and talk out differences. The best times are the two weeks before Iowa and New Hampshire: the voters are well-informed, the stakes are high, the race is open to any outcome, and the access to the candidate is still good. The campaigning focuses on a small area over a long time.
Later on, the campaigns become far more diffuse, with little retail politicking, poorly-informed voters, media-driven campaigning, and it becomes about the horse race. Particularly off-putting is the airport-hanger rally, which is certainly convenient.
Staffers in Raleigh showed little evidence of coming apart at the end, in spite of the bad news, with many of them already traveling to Florida, Texas, and Mississippi. At 11:45pm in Raleigh, a woman exiting the campaign headquarters told me she was the last to leave.
Monday, March 1
Sen. Edwards has made it to Super Tuesday, outlasting Gephardt, Lieberman, Dean, and Clark. The bad news is, he is not leading in a single poll from the ten states voting today. He was peppered with questions monday about the viability of his campaign, but reminded us about Wisconsin, which he lost only narrowly. "The day before the primary, we were 25, 35 points behind," he said. "We’ve always been going up and surging at the end, so we’ll just have to see what happens." Challenged on whether the arithmetic would force him out, he conceded, "at some point I’ve got to start getting more delegates than him or I’m not going to be the nominee, but I intend to be in this until the end."
He also asserted that a protracted nomination contest was not hurting the party. "As long as there’s a serious, substantive discussion going on among Democrats," he said, "we get a lot of attention from the American people, and it’s harder for George Bush to get attention. And I think that’s part of the reason that both myself and John Kerry are beating George Bush in national polls."
Aides are as on-message as their candidate, speaking as if there is no question that he will continue on through the four southern states voting March 9. But supporters in the crowd offered mixed attitudes, with some determined to keep trying, some resigned to Kerry winning, and many frustrated that Kerry has accumulated such a runaway lead. "Edwards appeals to me a little more, but either would be acceptable," said a Cleveland voter who planned to vote for Edwards. "He could take the VP slot, and be ready in 2008," another told me.
Monday’s turnout for Edwards in Ohio was low, with only around 100 coming to hear him race through his stump speech in Cleveland - one of the lowest turnouts in weeks. Turnout at events in Dayton OH, Toledo OH, and Macon GA also did not rival the crowds he got a week ago.
Sunday, Feb. 29
Going into Super Tuesday, Edwards is insisting that he doesn’t have to win states, but rather only collect a 'substantial' share of delegates. Merle Black at Emory University told me, "he needs to win Georgia, no question, and other victories Ohio would be huge, or Marlyand. If he could pull off something else, he could at least keep it alive, but he’s a long shot. He so much better a campaigner, I could see why Kerry would still be concerned."
In spite of the odds, a travel schedule was also put out for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, through TX, MS, FL, and LA, perhaps as a show of optimism or determination. One advance staffer told me she was flying to Dallas Sunday night.
In a debate more contentious than any of the others so far, Edwards again stepped up his criticism of Kerry, on his record on trade votes, on being a Washington insider, and Kerry’s budgeting as dissected in the Washington Post. Kerry pushed back, citing Edwards’ short resume, trial lawyer donors, and protectionism.
"This is not a personality contest," said Edwards, although likeability is considered one of his main assets. Asked if he was becoming more contentious, Edwards said, "No, I just wanted people to know what the differences are between us. Edwards on whether he's annoyed that Sharpton and Kucinich were there: "I'm not touching that one."
Rattling off several factoids, it was obvious he had studied up on Haiti - the foreign policy guy was on the flight for debate prep.
The Edwards campaign says they have raised $5.7m to date since Iowa, the majority of which is matchable. Last saturday they said $5m, so that means $700,000 this week fundraising every night mon-fri (Atlanta, Houston, Sacramento, LA, and New Orleans) and on the internet. Edwards attends 2 fundraisers in NY tonight, and they expect to reach $6m by tuesday.
It is worth noting that while they describe their ad buys as substantial and statewide in OH and GA, the AP described them as smaller then Kerry. They're not advertising in Minnesota, even though they are hopeful enough about their chances that they ditched friday's LA event to go to Minnesota.
Jack and Emma Claire, age 3 and 5, were in tow today for the first time in a couple of weeks. Photogenic and entertaining, they have a clear appeal to voters, but also risk being seen as props. They both charmed reporters on the plane, with Jack playing airplane, demanding high-fives, and using your embed’s videocamera. Eventually his father tried the embed campaign cam as well.
They waved signs and jumped around during his speech in Albany Sunday, and the senator interrupted his speech a couple of times to acknowledge them. They may be a photo op, but they’re irresistible.
Former Dean organizer Eric Schmeltzer told us Edwards appealed to about 100 former Dean supporters in a conference call with them Saturday afternoon, saying they still have the power to decide whether this race will end now and the establishment is going to win, or whether we’re going to keep this race going with someone who would be a voice for change. Beam of Cleveland said, "he clearly is the outsider, like Howard Dean was," and Minnesota state director Laura Leavitt said, "I’m sitting at a phone bank with 15 Dean supporters." Still, several of them acknowledged that the Dean team is very decentralized, supporters will make up their own minds, and many of them will still vote for Dean. And of course, the Dean machinery failed to get Howard Dean elected.
Friday, Feb. 27
California has more delegates at stake than any other state, but asked Thursday if he would win the state, Sen. Edwards said only, "I think that remains to be seen." Instead of an event in L.A. Friday morning, the campaign schedule has been changed so the senator had only one event, an added event in Minnesota, where aides point to their recent over-1000 turnout, and inroads with ex-Dean supporters. "Things look very good in Minnesota, so we wanted to hit it one more time," said deputy campaign manager David Ginsberg.
Their most promising state may be Georgia, where Edwards will return on Saturday. A recent ARG poll had him within 8 points of Kerry, while John Zogby wrote in his analysis Thursday, "something is definitely happening here. I’m going to suggest that Edwards wins Georgia. He's a late closer." Edwards state director Emil Runge told me, "you don’t register by party here in Georgia, so I think he will get support from across the spectrum. Self-proclaimed independents and Republicans will be inclined towards Edwards." Their assets in the state consist of four offices, 17 paid staff, and "hundreds" of volunteers.
Despite the daunting delegate math, Edwards insists he is ready to continue through March 9, after taking what he can get in the ten states voting March 2. "These are not winner-take-all states," he told us Thursday. "Delegates will largely be apportioned according to vote results. I’m very much in this for the long haul to be the nominee, and I intend to stay in."
After a week of clamoring for more debates, Edwards got his chance Thursday night, even though the forum was diluted by Kucinich and Sharpton, at the insistence of the Kerry campaign. Edwards was civil but pointed in drawing distinctions with Sen. Kerry on lobbyists, trade, DoMA, outsiders and insiders, and his humble origins. "I think it was a good lively exchange," the senator told us afterward. "We got to, really for the first time in many ways, talk about some of the differences that exist between Sen. Kerry and myself, some of the substantive policy differences." Communications director David Ginsberg added, "for the first time… it was conversational. There was an actual exchange of ideas."
In the spin room, a reporter asked, "You were sounding more like running mates at one point there than opponents." Edwards: "Well, if he wants to be my running mate, then we’ll consider it." A couple of times Edwards put his hand on Kerry’s arm. But Kerry was not above pushing back on the Edwards record on trade votes and trial lawyer contributions, and also made a point of minimizing their differences, adding at one point, "I know he's looking for some differences because you need them. But there's not really a difference." The rapid-response e-mails focused not just on the trade record, but on Edwards’ claim to have beaten Kerry among independent states. While Raleigh claims that in the last five "most recent contested primaries," Edwards beat Kerry among independents 4 times out of 5 and among Republicans 5 times out of 5. But the Kerry folks respond that out of the 10 states where exit polling was conducting, Kerry beat Edwards among independents 6 times out of 10. As to the Republican rapid response, Edwards did not even rate a mention.
Several of his answers - on Haiti during the debate, or afterwards in the spin room on a two-China policy - were short and very generalized. After a couple of articles on this theme, reporters may have additional questions about whether Edwards can persuade voters that has the necessary grasp of foreign policy to lead a post-9/11 America.
There was a familiar "John Edwards - President" bus at the debate site Thursday night, which supporters have probably seen in previous states as well. It is not, however, the senator’s bus - indeed, it is not even there for the campaign. Instead, it is operated independently, turning up wherever volunteer Richard Buckman (and Bubba the driver) think it can be most useful to shuttle volunteers and provide visibility. They have been at it since early January, and often they travel with just four volunteers on board. The bus was bought by a Mississippi attorney who then decided against running for governor, and instead made it available to Edwards volunteers. Because of this arrangement, it presumably avoids being considered a coordinated campaign expenditure by the FEC.
Thursday, Feb. 26
Sen. Edwards clearly was not thrilled to have gay marriage continuing to dominate headlines here in California when he arrived to give a policy speech on fighting poverty. On Wednesday, after the sixth question on the subject, he was repeating his limited answers and finally said curtly, "I’m finished with that question." On Tuesday, after the fifth question on the subject, he ended his press conference. Aides know that the issue will come up again on Thursday, but say their man deserves credit for not shying away from it, going to San Francisco and taking questions from the media in the midst of the debate.
"For all his speech tonight, he didn’t mention it once," said a disappointed gay listener at Edwards’ speech in Sacramento wednesday night, but he was disappointed in Kerry as well. "They’re for civil unions, and neither supports gay marriage. I think the gay community has pretty much accepted that that’s what they’re going to get at this point in our history, but I at least want to hear them bring it up when they talk."
Wednesday, Feb. 25
When I asked Sen. Edwards about gay marriage Tuesday, he did his best to redirect the focus to the issues he has found the most traction on: jobs and the economy. "What this indicates is that the president is not in touch with what's going on in people’s lives. If he really wants to help married couples, what he should be doing is helping them with their economic problems, their health care problems."
Spokesman Roger Salazar told me, "Just because it’s in the news doesn’t mean people will vote on it." According to California Republican strategist Dan Schnur, "same sex marriage has the potential to do to the Dems what abortion has done to the republicans. It separates the party base form the political center." But over at the Human Rights Campaign, Mark Shields said, "Democrats might be a little squeamish" about the issue, but Republicans were also divided, into the religious right and the libertarians who say a constitutional amendment is the wrong solution. He added, "I think Bush is trying to jumpstart his election campaign on the backs of same sex couples."
Kerry and Edwards have the same position on the amendment: they oppose an amendment to ban gay marriage, would leave it to the states, oppose gay marriage, but express support for partnership rights and equal rights.
The president’s statement throws an unwelcome hot potato into the laps of the Democrats just in time for the runup to super Tuesday. Edwards arrives in California Tuesday, needing all the media exposure he can get in a state where advertising is prohibitively expensive. Instead, the gay marriage debate has knocked the primary race off the front pages. By Thursday, Edwards will be in San Francisco, but Salazar says, "Edwards in the past has always been direct, in San Francisco, saying that personally he’s opposed to it and doesn’t think Americans are ready for it."
Edwards on Wednesday will focus on the central valley and the northern valley in California, rather than the coast. Salazar says the region is home to Reagan Democrats, Blue Dog democrats, moderates, and independents, who might be particularly receptive. "They make up the vast majority of the Democratic party in CA, and DLC types are the ones elected statewide."
The last candidate who counted on independents in California was John McCain, another candidate who played the outsider against the Washington establishment, an energetic and dynamic campaigner with outstanding campaign skills. His campaign was ended by California in 2000, and communications director Dan Schnur found that relying on independents can be problematic. "It’s a Hobson’s choice," he told me. "You can demonstrate general election appeal, but you need support from your own party to go forward." Salazar says this time it’s different, since California Democrats allow independents to vote in their primary, but he still concedes the difficulty for Edwards to mount a successful challenge to Kerry in CA. "The question now is how much progress we can make in the next three days. We would certainly love to have more time to campaign here in CA, there’s no doubt about that," he told me.
On the McCain campaign in 2000, said Schnur, "we did fine when we could compete with Bush one or two states at a time, but in a national primary, in terms of money, organization, it’s far harder." So far, Edwards has been able to compete best with Kerry in states like Iowa, SC, and Wisconsin based on intensive campaigning.
Still, Salazar claims that even though the newest Field poll shows Kerry with a substantial lead, the voters are still fluid. "Just three weeks ago, those polls had Kerry had us as low as we are now: just in the single digits." The latest LA Times poll showed voters were putting a premium on electability, said pollster Susan Pinkus, but Kerry has a commanding lead over Edwards in all categories, on all issues. "Economy-and-jobs comes up high," she said, "and for that issue Kerry also beats Edwards. That’s one of the centerpieces of Edwards campaign, opposing NAFTA, and yet that doesn’t seem to be resonating for him."
Republican Dan Schnur was pleased. "From what I’ve watched, the more you see of Edwards, the more you like him. It seems he’s a much better general election candidate. Democrats are so busy congratulating themselves on not falling for Dean, they haven’t noticed that Kerry is not so electable either. Edwards is smart to stay in, in case Kerry does something foolish, but that’s the only way he still has a chance."
On the trail
At an event that looked more like the kind of establishment lovefest that Sen. Kerry would do, Edwards on tuesday trotted out the endorsement of over 50 state legislators in the middle of the ornate marble capitol building in Atlanta. After a flat run-through of the stump for a small Atlanta civics group, he spoke to several hundred in Houston, TX - a state that votes on March 9, and is also home to plenty of donors.
It is a bit of a spectacle to have your lugage sniffed every morning by a dog, and to have the bus and the 8-car caravan escorted by motorcycles closing off interesections. But the campaign has a different feel to it, with the secret service clearly putting distance not only between the candidate and everyone else, but also between the press and everyone else. It ain't Iowa in a couple of minivans anymore, that's for sure. On the bright side: in our hotel rooms, cookies shaped like Texas with J.R.E. written on them.
Tuesday, Feb. 24
On same-sex marriage issue
"The answer is that I do not support - I am against the president's constitutional amendment on gay marriage. I personally do not support gay marriage myself. My position has always been that it is for the states to decide -- it's for the state of Georgia to decide, or any other state to decide, and I think the federal government should honor their decision.
What this indicates is that the president is not in touch with what's going on in people's lives. If he really wants to help married couples, what he should be doing is helping them with their economic problems, their health care problems. He has no serious plan to create jobs in his counry, no serious plan to solve the health care crisis in this country."
The good news for Edwards is that Kerry is engaged on two fronts, with Pres. Bush now criticizing him on one side while Edwards tries to challenge him as well. The bad news is that Edwards didn’t rate a mention in Bush’s speech or much notice among his surrogates. The incipient Kerry-Bush debate leaves Edwards out, while making Kerry already look like the nominee.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri, from distant Raleigh, plays it as a three-way debate: "We’re happy to engage [with Bush.] I think it focuses all of the media’s attention on the presidential race. I think it shows that he’s feeling the heat from Dems and we’ve made real progress."
Kerry begins a jobs tour on Tuesday, and Edwards aide Kim Rubey suggests that Edwards was part of the reason for it, pointing to Kerry’s trip to Ohio right after the close finish in Wisconsin. But Kerry’s aim seems to be to defuse Edwards by adopting the main talking points of his rival.
While Craig Crawford is writing that Edwards would have to capture 60% of the vote in every primary from now on to snatch the nomination from Kerry, Palmieri only looks one step at a time. "We expect to win some states March 2, most states March 9, win Illinois March 16, and then we think that will tip the scales in our favor."
Edwards spoke to mid-sized crowds Monday that did not crackle with the energy they often did over the weekend. Georgia audiences seem to be as subdued as the ones in South Carolina were, and the last-minute New York event was an earnest but dull made-for-tv jobs roundtable. The effect of the new secret service detail was particularly evident Monday night in Columbus GA. The crowd was behind a low railing, 10ft from the stage, and the 25 signholders on stage behind the senator had to provide their social security numbers. The handshaking afterwards was linear and unspontaneous, as the senator made his way down the ropeline. But the senator showed none of the displeasure that the press corps did, chafing at the restricted access and bellyaching about the time consumed. Perhaps we will be assuaged by a larger plane on Wednesday, and the possible appearance of an Edwards campaign bus in California.
Edwards ads begin in upstate New York on Tuesday. The AP reports that while the buys may be increased during the week, so far they total only a modest $250,000 in GA, OH, and NY combined. During a marathon of 11 satellite interviews in an hour, Sen. Edwards told a station in Albany monday, "in the end, we move up and we surge. The same thing will happen in New York." State director Terrence Tolbert says, "I remember when the polls had us as a dash. I’m not saying we’re going to win outright, but we are getting closer and closer to him." Tolbert said one sign of their organizational strength is that they got delegates on the ballot in all 29 districts, while Kerry only managed 20. Tolbert did not, however, point to the latest Marist poll, which had Edwards trailing by 52 points in New York.
Focusing on the Dean vote, he added, "if you add together what Edwards and Dean had in most other states, we blow out everybody else," he said, ignoring states like Virginia where Kerry won more than 50% of the votes. "In some cases, it’s just an anti-Kerry vote," he said of Deaniacs for Edwards, "but in most cases they have done their research, and are no slouches when it comes to politics."
Monday, Feb. 23
Edwards nowadays praises Gov. Dean in every speech, and told us sunday he has been talking to Gov. Dean and asking for his support. Not reluctant to tell us about his progress, Edwards said "he says in response, I’m very impressed with your campaign, I think you’ll be the best candidate against George Bush, and I’m just - I need a little time to think about this."
The Edwards folks point out that in Ohio, he was endorsed by the Dean chair; in Minnesota, Saturday’s rally was organized with the help of the Dean network; and in New York, Dean staffers began a website, "DeaniacsForEdwards.com." But in Rochester, I talked to a woman who told me that, after working on all those Dean petitions, she would still vote for Dean next Tuesday.
Courting the New York Times
Edwards picked up the Fresno Bee endorsement on Sunday, and meets the NYT Ed board Monday morning to make his case. It meant changing his schedule to be in New York City, and adding a last-minute roundtable with UNITE union workers that, for your planning, looks like a photo op.
The little guy
Vintage Edwards on Sunday, appearing in the bleak rust belt town of Niles: a made-for-tv appearance at a steel plant with a management-labor dispute, R.M.I. Titanium. "There was no strike, they just want all kinds of concessions," an idled worker outside told me. Edwards spoke outside the padlocked gates, excoriating the Bush administration on outsourcing and free trade. "I know what you're going through - my own father worked in a mill," he said. "I saw what happened in my hometown when the mill closed." The focus was on empathy, not policy.
He also worked to corner the market on championing the little guy. In an on-board press conference cut short by takeoff, the senator told us, "I think I naturally appeal to a lot of the people who might find Ralph Nader appealing, because of my history of fighting for the little guy, etc., which is part of what his campaign is about."
Overnight, the security detail began for Sen. Edwards, covering him but not his family. While Sen. Kerry’s coverage began on Friday already, spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen told us, "the service was authorized at the same time as Kerry."
Edwards on his chances
"This is like many of the other states we’ve been in. He’s ahead, I’m behind... Everyplace we’ve been and campaigned head to head I’ve been ascending come election night, so it’s just a time issue. I know we’re going to go up, the question is how much and how quickly."
The Edwards campaign was ready to take what they can get, a New York debate even though it’s on CBS (which has no national cable outlet) in the middle of the day. At every stop, in Manhattan, Atlanta, Savannah, Maryland, Buffalo, Long Island, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown, and Rochester, he has told his audience they deserve a local debate. "They deserve to know what the differences are between John Kerry and John Edwards, so I think we should have these debates, and I intend to keep pushing."
Raleigh organized a conference call for reporters to claim that Edwards had as much money as Kerry this year. The reasoning rests on Edwards raising $5m this year, getting $3.4m in matching funds for last year, and $2m in matching funds this year. But it also rests on Kerry raising $7m this year to complement $3.3m on hand, while their campaign says $9m was raised, per Becky Diamond. Spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri pointed out that Edwards begins ads in Georgia and Ohio on Sunday, but Kerry has no ads up anywhere. "That could suggest they have a money problem, that could be a strategic thing, but we have the money to compete on the air and on the ground." It is worth noting, however, that Edwards had only half a million cash on hand at the end of January, and several hundred thousand dollars of debt, according to their Feb. 20 FEC report.
Friday, Feb. 20
Sen. Edwards is stepping up his call for debates, offering to debate wherever, whenever, and arguing that voters deserve a choice. He listed New York, Georgia, Ohio, and California on thursday, suggesting that each of those states deserved their own debate. (The trailing candidate usually clamors for debates.) Aids are confident in his debating skills, believing that his performances lifted him in Iowa and Wisconsin, and they also want to see their line that "it’s a two-man race" demonstrated onstage.
"I can see why," says Sam Popkin at UCSD. "One-on-one would help him. He scores enormously when he says things like, "That’s one of the longest answers to a yes-or-no question I’ve ever heard." That was Reaganesque."
Edwards Thursday used a written speech delivered from a podium to highlight trade positions. He claimed he’s not a protectionist, then cited his opposition to NAFTA and his votes against fast track and agreements with Chile, Africa, and the Caribbean. The line got little applause from his New York City audience, but fared better later in Atlanta. NY Times today calls it "the hottest issue in the Democratic contest," perhaps because there are so few policy differences between Kerry and Edwards.
The Edwards campaign did not get the senator qualified for the Vermont primary, so he will be unable to win any of the state’s 15 delegates on March 2.
No coverage yet. "We’ll know more in a couple of days," said spokeswoman Kim Rubey.
At noon Thursday, the campaign boasted they had raised $700,000 in the 24 hours after Wisconsin - $450k online and $250 the hard way in NJ - and $4.9m since Iowa. Thursday night was Miami.
Thursday, Feb. 19
Edwards vs. Kerry
The two senators engaged long-distance yesterday on trade and NAFTA. In a conference call with reporters from the Amtrak, Edwards gave more examples than usual of the differences between him and Kerry: his upbringing, his middle class tax credits, his taking no PAC money, and of course trade. "Both in emphasis and substance there’s a difference between us," he said on the issue of lobbying reform. Edwards was pressed by reporters to demonstrate his credentials on fighting free trade deals in the Senate (he eventually cited an African-Caribbean trade deal) or during his 1998 campaign.
Edwards was fundraising in the New York area Wednesday night, while the campaign sent out an e-mail saying they raised more than $300,000 on the internet in the previous 24 hours.
Friday, Feb. 13
The spin of the day is a reminder that there is little evidence in this race so far that endorsements change voters. E.g. Howard Dean placing third in Iowa after Gore, Bradley, Harkin, et al. (At the same time, like every campaign, the Edwards folks trumpet every endorsement they get.)
Sen. Edwards called the General on Wednesday to wish him well, but don’t forget Clark had criticized Edwards for five days straight before Virginia/Tennessee. Still, on the Today show Thursday, Edwards was Mr. Nice Guy: "General Clark is a terrific man. He was a great candidate. And now that he's out of the race I think a lot of those voters will be attracted to me because they know I'm the one person left in this race who has won a very tough race in the South."
The Edwards campaign hopes to raise a half million in LA over Thursday and Friday combined. Thursday night’s affair to shake the money tree was held at the home of producer Frank Spotnitz (The X Files), co-hosted by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Casey Wasserman, and Mrs. Victoria Hopper.
Thursday in Culver City, Edwards was joined by Tom Hayden and Herb Wesson for a speech before several hundred, says KNBC’s Laurel Erickson. On Thursday in Racine, Edwards raced through his stump speech before a flat crowd of 180, skipping some of his best-known lines like "we oughtta outsource this administration" and the story of a man losing his job, and skipping the Q&A with the press as well.
The campaign tells us they now have 31 paid staff in Wisconsin, and opened two more offices on Thursday, bringing the total to four. "They don’t have the staff of Dean or Kerry, but they’re ramping up," I’m told by WisPolitics editor Jeff Mayers. "They’re playing it smart: timing the visits, going to the right places, stressing the right issues. The Dean people have invested a lot of effort since last summer, but the Edwards people could at least get it down to a two-man race. Still, Kerry is in a commanding position, and Wisconsin is more momentum-friendly than maverick-friendly."
Edwards pledged to be in Wisconsin every day until Tuesday’s voting, which on Friday meant taking a redeye back from California in the morning, only to fly back there in the afternoon to tape Jay Leno and more fundraising. Edwards was scheduled for a phone pre-interview to preview questions and stories, but staffers said it was up to the host to decide how much of the interview would be politics, and how much would be chat.
Thursday, Feb. 12
On his first appearance on Imus, a bantering Edwards gave this analysis of where he stands: "You know, Kerry’s ahead, and I’m trying to catch him," he said, but he protested Imus’ characterization. "I’ve done better than ‘awful.’" His explanation: "this process is very frontloaded," and after Iowa and New Hampshire, "he’s been riding the momentum from all of that."
Imus: "You know and I know you’d take [the VP slot] in a heartbeat."
Edwards: "You think I’m going to say that on your show, after a thousand times I’ve said I’m not going to say that? I’m not getting anywhere near that one."
Lighthearted and casual, he teased Imus until the host said, "Don’t put me on trial." Imus also asked the question the rest of us are too mild to ask: what’s with the mole on his lip? Edwards: "My daughter wants to know why don’t I get that thing taken off."
When Edwards heard about Dean's comments, that he thought Edwards was more electable than Kerry, he paused for a minute. "I agree with that, I think he's a very wise man," he joked. Their spin of the day is that electability doesn't depend on winning the party faithful, but rather in winning over the independents and swing voters that determine whether a state goes Dem or Republican.
This argument comes in the face of winning only one state out of 14 so far, and a story in the NY Times on wednesday suggesting that there are other reasons for a candidate like Edwards to stay in the race: raising his profile, looking ahead to 2008, or eyeing a VP slot. But a spokeswoman wednesday dismissed those suggestions, saying Edwards was in it to win it. The campaign is working to get staff up and running in all the major March 2 states by the weekend, and the senator is headed out to LA thursday for fundraising.
Asked on the plane if there had been any suggestion to him that he drop out, Edwards said, "None. Not a thing. Not one word."
Edwards was limited in his criticism of the president over the questions about his National Guard service. Asked about it on the Today show thurdsay, he said, "I think it’s a fair question to ask. I don’t think it should be the focus of the campaign."
Instead, Edwards wednesday was rapping the administration on outsourcing, and the recent economic report from Gregory Mankiw. His biggest applause line is a new one: "Outsourcing American jobs is a good thing? They're talking about outsourcing 3.5m jobs by 2015? You know what the solution to this is? We ought to outsource this administration." He also denounced some trade agreement under negotiation with Australia, and called on the other candidates to oppose it as well.
Hoping to make inroads in Janesville, WI (crowd 180) LaCrosse WI (crowd 450) and Green Bay WI (crowd 400) he encouraged his audience to give the candidates a close look, and said he was counting on WI living up to their reputation for independentmindedness, and holding a campaign - not a coronation.
LaCrosse Wisconsin, Janesville Wisconsin - they're small towns, and they almost make you feel like Iowa again. Unlike the voters in, say, South Carolina, people here are jazzed to have a presidential visit. The signholders even cheered when the media's tour bus showed up. Edwards, again the happy warrior today, was back to taking questions when he had a small enough audience, doing the kind of retail give-and-take that paid off for him in Iowa, but has often fallen by the wayside with multi-state tarmac-to-tarmac touchdown-and-television campaigning. This state even feels a little like Iowa, except colder: snowy, wide open spaces, roads marked out so pickup trucks can drive across the frozen lakes, and people talking with a little twang.
Wednesday, Feb. 11
Most Americans woke up on wednesday to the news that, for the first time, Kerry won in the South, beating Edwards in his backyard by a handy margin, and now seems unstoppable on his way to the Democratic nomination. But in the Edwards campaign Tuesday night, where they already expected a Kerry win, the silver lining was that they had knocked Gen. Clark out of the race, by beating him in both states.
"He spent millions of dollars to split the southern vote," said the campaign’s media consultant, David Axelrod. "You take Gen. Clark out of the equation, we win Tennessee."
Informed by your embed that Clark would bow out, the elated press secretary burst out, "well, it’s about time." Communications director David Ginsberg gave a more measured response, as we rode up the hotel elevator: "Well, we’re obviously pleased."
The campaign spin all week has tried to de-emphasize the fact that Edwards has won only one state so far out of a dozen, and instead focused on one step at a time: surviving each elimination round.
"The last thing John Kerry wants is a one-on-one contest with John Edwards, but I think we’re moving toward that," Axelrod told me. "You’re going to get much closer and competitive races."
But Democratic strategist Peter Fenn told me, "Edwards seemed to be the one person who could still challenge Kerry, but you have to win a few races if you want to move into the top tier, and he’s not even close. It helps to be in a one-on-one race, but Kerry is already getting 52%."
When Edwards called Kerry on Tuesday night to congratulate him, he added that he is looking forward to a spirited contest in Wisconsin. He told us on the charter plane to Milwaukee, "I think we’re going to fight like crazy, that's what I think." Ads began last week, and I’ve spotted recycled Edwards staffers from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and even Virginia in the Badger state. The schedule was modified today, to have less time in California, and time in Wisconsin every day until the voting.
A recent poll gave Kerry a wide lead in the state, but campaign manager Nick Baldick pointed out hopefully in a morning conference call that Wisconsin is a rural state, with a populist tradition, that allows independents to vote. With a whole week for candidates to campaign there full time, Kerry’s momentum might be less of a factor. But Peter Fenn told me, "I think next Tuesday this will be over. I think something cataclysmic would have to happen to derail the Kerry locomotive." Still, Axelrod told me, "every time this guy gets time in a state, we move. He’s the Seabiscuit of candidates. He moves very quickly from the pack when he gets the opportunity."
A new character
In exit polls, it seems Edwards does well on the question of whether he understands people’s problems. Tuesday night, in his televised speech, he described a father coming home from the factory he has worked at for years, heavy-hearted with the news that his plant is closing, knowing his family’s life will change and looking in the eyes of his little daughter. We’re told the story was based in part on the people he met two days at the Carrier plant in Tennessee. "Sometimes you can’t go to sleep at night when you hear the stories," he told MSNBC after his speech.
Edwards is surely tired of being asked if he would run as Kerry's running mate, but Chris Matthews found a new way to ask him that question by tempting him with the prospect of going head to head with Dick Cheney in a debate. Afterwards, Edwards said, "That was really good. Of course, he knows it makes my mouth water to think about that too."
Monday, Feb. 9
Jobs, jobs, jobs
In a made-for-media message-oriented visit, Edwards spoke at a barbecue joint near a Carrier plant in Morrison, TN. The 35 year old air conditioning manufacturing plant is closing next year, costing 1300 jobs that paid $15 to $18 per hour. Bystanders told me the manufacturing will relocate to Charlotte, Texas, and Mexico.
"I want to say to all of you that I just met with, you have my word that as your president, I will stand up for you, I will fight for you, I do understand what you’re going through, and you have my commitment that I will do everything in my power to protect your jobs, to replace you jobs, and to help you in the interim." Edwards also let slip that his father worked in a mill, and he saw the impact on families when the mills closed. Speaking outdoors in Norfolk this afternoon to a crowd of 150-200, he also said he has consistently voted against base closings.
The horse race
Edwards tells audiences that he is the candidate who can beat Bush right here in the South, but today did not predict that he could beat John Kerry here. "What I want to do is finish in the top two here [in Virginia,] in the top two in Tennessee, then we go on to WI. As I said earlier, I think this thing is very quickly narrowing to a two-person race, and I think that continues into March, and I intend to be the nominee," he said, in his ongoing effort to lower the bar for himself in TN and VA. "The problem with TN and VA is the short time with the primaries that came before it," he said, pleading for more time, and he suggested that people not jump on any bandwagons: "Should they decide tomorrow, or a week from tomorrow? No, this is going to go on much longer than that."
Sunday, Feb. 8
Edwards headed into the final day of campaigning by again trying to lower the bar for himself in Virginia and Tennessee. "I’d like to be in the top two in both those places," he told reporters, and then aimed to buy himself more time. "Then we’ll go to Wisconsin. This is a long term effort for me. We have the money and the resources, and most importantly, the message to prevail in the long term."
Continuing his focus on jobs, and his campaign against free trade, Edwards will begin Monday in Tennessee at a diner. From the release: "Edwards will meet with Morrison workers who recently found out they will lose their jobs when their Carrier plant is closed next year."
On Sunday, Clark criticized Edwards and Kerry again, this time on tax cuts. Back in Iowa, Edwards was able to capitalize on being Mr. Positive, but back then it was other candidates criticizing each other, so Edwards could only benefit. Now, he is a target himself, so it’s not a freebee.
On Sunday, as on Friday, the campaign felt they had to respond on the issue, but this time their press release just stuck to the issue, and didn’t add that Clark’s criticism was a sign that he is desperate.
Saturday, Feb. 7
Michigan and Washington turned out to be states in which Edwards did not compete, and after Sen. Kerry’s clear victories in those states on Saturday, the line from the Edwards campaign was this: the result was not a surprise, and they are focused on Virginia and Tennessee. The implicit assumption seems to be, losing doesn’t count if you never even tried.
But even in Tennessee and Virginia, Edwards on Saturday continued to try to lower the bar for himself, telling us on Saturday, "I’d like to be in the top two." He declined to call them must-win states, and tried to give himself more time to still emerge. "I have always viewed this as a long term race the nomination. Luckily for us, we have the money and resources to maintain a long term effort for this nomination."
Edwards in Wisconsin Saturday drew a far more energetic crowd of 500 (compared to a flat event with 120 in Memphis in the morning.) He responded in kind, speaking without a podium, pacing the stage in a suit, his runner’s watch, and his trademark black hiking boots. He was addressing union activists from UNITE, the textile-workers union which endorsed him today, and has 250,000 active and 250,000 retired members nationally, including 2000-3000 in Wisconsin.
His talk about helping families living paycheck to paycheck was particularly suited to this crowd, as was his criticism of NAFTA, with lines like "this president knows all about free trade; how about a little fair trade?" He said he’s heard so many people "talking about the security of America. How about the security of American jobs?" He also pledged to ban permanent striker replacements, allow card-check recognition when workers want to unionize, and raise the minimum wage.
Edwards met Tuesday with more than a dozen presidents of unions, including Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters, who used to support Gephardt. Asked if he had met with any unions who had supported Dean, the press secretary gave a quick ‘no comment.’
With the senator running hard to do well in Tennessee and Virginia, I assumed that he works late into the night with senior staff, writing speeches and making phone calls. I assumed wrong. Around 11pm, in the lobby of the hotel, the senator was walking barefoot with his two youngest children, who were still dripping wet from the swimming pool. "Each floor looks the same," he said to an aide. "Which floor are we on?"
Friday, Feb. 6
Clark was criticizing Edwards again Friday, this time on two votes against increases in veteran adminsitration funding and one that would have protected the VA from cuts. Edwards: "These are all appropriations bills they have lots of provisions in them ... I’m the person who stepped out and said we need to do a great deal more for our veterans, including better funding for VA hospitals and providing veterans the same health care that members of the U.S. Senate get."
Raleigh sent out a fact sheet as well, to counter. He added, "this is the kind of attacks that people are sick of. What they want is to know what we’ll do for the country." The talk from the staff: going negative gets you in the paper the next day, but does not win you voters. look what happened to the last candidates who threw stones: Lieberman early on, then Gephardt and Dean.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Edwards seized on today’s unemployment figures, calling them disappointing, and tying them into his continued focus on jobs and pocketbook issues. There are a couple of new lines in the speech on this tour, including this: "Remember 20 years ago, we used to say 'Buy American'? Well how about now, 'Hire American'?" Turnout, in spite of ice and rain, was around 350 at each of three events in Virginia, not just at a college (where students provide the warm bodies,) but also at a YMCA and a high school (even though classes were canceled for the weather.)
Rural voters, again
Edwards Thursday spoke to a crowd of about 250 in Nashville TN and 200 in Roanoke VA, even though he kept them both waiting an hour and a half, focusing on jobs and working families. Campaign events used to be about personally making the sale to voters, but now they seem to be more about getting on local TV every night in the important markets.
The Edwards travel schedule is focusing especially on rural areas, looking for moderates and independents, and working class voters - a strategy which does seem to have helped him exceed expectations in Iowa, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. David "Mudcat" Saunders, a Virginia strategist who once worked for the Edwards PAC, pointed to the latest Virginia governor’s race, saying it was downstate and rural western Democrats who made the difference - voters Edwards may do well with - rather than the educated suburban party faithful who live near DC - voters Kerry may do well with.
Staffers see Kerry as their competition in Virginia, rather than Gen. Clark, who has shifted his focus to Tennessee. In Tennessee, Clark has made a bigger investment, and the Edwards folks see this contest as the more decisive matchup. Curiously, they think Edwards can survive a second place finish in Tennessee, but Clark can’t. A recent poll had Edwards in third, but aides note it was taken before Feb 3. In spinning the expectations game, aides point out that Clark has been spending heavily on advertising, he ramped up his staff earlier, and he is from a neighboring state. (Of course, Edwards is from a neighboring state, too.)
"I think in Tennessee and Virginia I need to be competitive, which I think means the top two," the senator said Thursday, trying to lower the bar for Tuesday’s contests. "Tennessee and Virginia are places that we just haven’t had as much time to spend here, in either of these places, and what's happening nationally has more impact on what's happening in these races." He added, "I do think my being here and campaigning will have an impact."
In both states, it seems the Edwards campaign is more concerned about Clark than about Kerry, on the theory that if Edwards can outlast Clark, he will pick up much of the moderate and independent Clark vote. In addition, they hope that if they can survive until a two-man race, they will get enough exposure to be heard amid the frontrunner momentum.
"It has always been a war of attrition," Edwards told us. "The question is, when do we get to a place that it's absolutely clear to everyone hat this is a two person race. And the American people are able to focus on just two candidates. I think we're approaching that place right now."
The Edwards plan has a just-get-through-one-more-day sound to it: outlast Clark in the South; outlast Dean in Wisconsin; and in the two clear weeks that follow, get enough attention as the only alternative to Kerry. During those two weeks, they are hoping there is time for Kerry’s momentum to cool under frontrunner scrutiny (as it did with Dean.)
But this strategy rests on three large assumptions: that Edwards can beat Clark not just in Virginia, but also in Tennessee; that Kerry does not become a runaway train while Edwards is in the next week; and that if Edwards is given a clear field and time to campaign, he can catch up with Kerry, even though Kerry beat him in Iowa and now has frontrunner momentum.
Clark's criticism, day 2
The General again criticized the voting record of Sen. Edwards, and this time added criticisms for missing Senate votes and for calling Oklahoma a tie. Edwards: This is the kind of petty sniping that people are sick of... I think what Gen. Clark should be talking about is what he wants to do for the country." Raleigh's response: "Wesley Clark is doing what desperate politicians do when they are losing ground - resorting to misleading negative political attacks."
The campaign raised $350,000 on the internet since his Feb. 3 win in South Carolina, according to the AP, and Wednesday night’s fundraisers netted $200,000 as well. "We're doing terrific with fundraising," he told us aboard the plane on thursday. "If money were the issue, we're in the best shape you could imagine." Still, Friday’s NY Times notes that just as the ad buys are becoming more important and more expensive, Edwards has maxed out many donors, and does not have the internet troops that Dean does or the establishment fundraising network that Kerry does.
Thursday, Feb. 5
David Bonior, former House Minority Whip from Michigan, endorses Edwards on Thursday. Bonior, from the press release: “One of the reasons I am supporting John is that he campaigned against NAFTA and knows that we have to fight for fair trade, not just free trade.” He adds, “John Edwards is the best candidate to go toe-to-toe with Bush in the fall.”
Bonior is not the only pro-labor former Gephardt supporter whom Edwards has been courting. On Tuesday in South Carolina, he met with more than a dozen labor union presidents, including Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters, which endorsed Gephardt in August and has a membership of 1.4 million.
The Edwards campaign does not plan to advertise in Michigan, however, and as of now has no trip scheduled to the state, the largest yet to vote. Instead, aides would rather we looked to Wisconsin Feb. 17, even though they cannot count on winning there. “Wisconsin, that’s the next state where everybody will be in one state, one day,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri, looking for a more hospitable playing field. “It’s the next real big test.”
But first, Edwards will be in both Tennessee and Virginia every day between now and Tuesday’s voting. He has visited Tennessee more often than any other candidate, and began advertising there today. Clark plans to spend a million dollars in Tennessee, according to the wires, and Edwards staffers say he has been advertising for a month here already. On Wednesday in Memphis, Edwards told his audience of 185 people, “I lived in TN in the late 70s in Nashville. I know very well what the priorities are of the people of TN, and they are very similar to the ones I learned in NC.” He also added a new riff on jobs, his main topic over the next week in his “Strengthening American Jobs” tour, which will hit rural eastern Tennessee and rural western Virginia. In Virginia as well, according to state press secretary Patrick Dillon, “Clark has invested a lot more money here than anybody else, in terms of advertising. He’s been up on tv for a month.”
Wednesday, Feb. 4
Edwards spent Wednesday buoyed by his double-digit margin over Sen. Kerry in SC last night, and aides were also pleased that they came in ahead of Kerry in Oklahoma. "This is a very fluid race. It looks like it’s narrowed down to two or maybe three candidates, said Edwards this morning in Memphis. "If it’s two, it’s myself and Sen. Kerry, and I’ll let Gen Clark argue for whether he should be in that group."
Edwards offered an implicit comparison between himself and Kerry for voters, telling us, "they’re going to get a clear choice as we go forward in this nom process. They’re going to have someone who has not spent 10 or 20 years in Washington, someone who is more of an outsider, who sees things through their eyes, and I think that’s what I give them."
But while aides talk about a 2-man race, Gen. Clark edged him out in Oklahoma, and is doing a bus tour of Virginia and Tennessee… just like Edwards. They even stayed in the same hotel last night. The Edwards staff says Clark has spent heavily on advertising in the two states over the past month, whereas Edwards ads, which were scheduled to begin last Friday, are only just today actually beginning.
No plans have yet been announced for a Michigan visit, and space on the schedule is relatively limited, but for a candidate who says he is running a national campaign, skipping the state with the most delegates to date would counter that claim. But aides raise doubts about the fairness of Michigan’s internet voting, especially for minority voters. Instead, they point us to Wisconsin as the next state where they say all the candidates will be competing on a level playing field. Edwards ads begin there tomorrow.
Operationally, the campaign has its hands full with far more complicated travel logistics. Familiar faces from NH and Iowa, and now South Carolina, are being recycled to fill the ranks in new states.
As he has in the past, Edwards didn’t fritter away his victory speech thanking his staff on national TV. Instead, he dove straight into a quick stump speech about how there are two Americas, his voice returning after two days of hoarseness. I had a peek at the prepared speech, but chief of staff Miles Lackey indicated he wasn’t following any script. "Tonight, he doesn’t need it." Unlike some other campaign ballrooms, this one stayed full of staffers congratulating each other, asking each other which state they would be assigned to next, ordering another round, and telling each other they knew all along that Edwards would win SC by double digits.
The press corps had already boarded the bus when we got word that the senator would stay to follow the Oklahoma returns. For more than an hour, revelers watched the Oklahoma tallies on the big-screen tvs at Jillians in Columbia, punctuated by the occasional cheers when a correspondent in the room was seen live on television. When about 92% of the returns had been counted, however, we were told the senator was leaving for the airport.
Staffers were already looking ahead to upcoming primaries, and trying to frame the contest as an Edwards-Kerry race. "It already is a two-man race," said South Carolina chairman John Moylan, at whose house the senator watched the returns in the evening. "The other candidates just haven’t realized it yet."
There was also time, though, to review the strategy to date. Several staffers pointed out proudly how little the campaign strategy changed over the course of the year. One staffer told me it was difficult in November and December, when Edwards was showing no progress. The senator did not criticize other candidates even though he needed the attention, and the campaign did not change staffs or strategies despite the lack of progress all fall.
Another staffer wondered aloud over the campaign’s decision to spend so much time in South Carolina, rather than more time in MO, NM, or OK. Would some additional time have changed the outcome in Oklahoma? A top aide said they erred on the side of caution, but one footsoldier told me it was difficult to have Wesley Clark beat them by less than 1000 votes, twice in a row.
A Kerry spokeswoman Tuesday called Edwards a regional candidate who has only won in the south. An Edwards aide pointed out that he also beat Kerry in Oklahoma, but Edwards has not headed for Michigan or Washington this week, but instead Virginia and Tennessee, sticking to southern states. He often claims he is running a national campaign, but he did not campaign in North Dakota or Delaware, and made only a couple of visits to Arizona. On Tuesday, after watching the South Carolina results in his chairman’s living room, Edwards said, "I believe there’s a national poll in the last 24 hours that shows I can beat George Bush nationally. No, I’m very confident about my electability not just here in the south, but everywhere in the country."
In an amusing aside, Sen. Edwards on his campaign bus asked whether he had to write his own jokes, or whether the show’s staff would write the top ten list that the senator will read on Wednesday’s show. A staffer assured him it will be written for him.
Tuesday, Feb. 3
The Washington Post reported this morning that if Edwards didn’t win SC, he would endorse Sen. Kerry. The campaign points out that Edwards wasn’t quoted saying that, and of course says they expect to win in SC. "I didn’t say that. I think that’s just an assertion by the author," said the candidate. The statement sent out from Raleigh: "The story in the Washington Post today makes erroneous assumptions about his candidacy. He is in this race to stay and has never said anything to the contrary." Not the headline you want to see on voting day, although there’s no doubt today’s primary is make or break for his candidacy.
On the road
Edwards was as hoarse as ever this morning, speaking for only a couple of minutes to students at a college in Clinton. His wife did some of the talking, and he canceled an early polling-station drop-by. There were about 175 people there, and I talked to 25 students beforehand, and only one of them was registered to vote close enough by that he was planning to vote, which means that 24 of them were not the senator's target audience. About half of them said they were Republicans. Later, at a polling station in Columbia, there was a rigged sound truck cruising the street with Edwards messages coming out the speakers, and Edwards made a quick stop with his bus.
Tonight and beyond
Tonight, Sen. Edwards will watch returns at the home of his campaign chair John Moylan in Columbia. Staffers know that SC is make or break for their candidate in SC, and say they have erred on the side of caution by spending so much time in the state rather than making a run for OK, or boosting their percentage in MO or NM. They are counting on a win here, and have made plans accordingly, with travel and events planned in Memphis, Nashville, Richmond, and Norfolk in the next few days (minus a with a timeout for Letterman Top 10 and a NYC fundraiser.) Michigan is a tougher state for them, and an expensive state... no word yet on whether Edwards will travel there by saturday.
Edwards has said that if he wins SC and Kerry wins most other states, he sees it as a two-person race.
Monday, Feb. 2
Sen. Edwards engaged in a rare back-and-forth with Sen. Kerry on the eve of election day. According to the AP: Kerry: "Edwards says he's the only one who can win states in the South. He can't win his own states." Edwards: "I think it's important that voters understand when we talk about electability that I am the only candidate that actually has a record of having won in a tough state."
Edwards also mentioned the lobbying issue, and contrasted himself with Kerry on trade and NAFTA. Edwards also faced a question today on his career as a trial lawyer, in the wake of examinations in the NY Times and the Washington Post of the cases he chose and the arguments he made. And when it comes to the issue of lobbyists and special interests, which recently ensnared Sen. Kerry, Edwards also faces quesstions about his indebtedness to the trial lawyers who have provided half his funding.
Edwards spent his final day in South Carolina speaking at three colleges, which helped furnish his audiences, and at a rally in the town he was born: Seneca, SC. (He was born in the same hospital as Sen. Lindsey Graham.) Instead of an afternoon rally at the tiny house where his parents lived, which has been featured in his ads, the senator spoke in a local warehouse, his hoarse voice competing with the drumming of rain on the corrugated roof.
His voice has gotten worse rather than better, and he held no press availability all day, but in a curbside CNN interview, he gave a prediction for tuesday: "We've got great operations in Oklahoma, in Missouri, in New Mexico. In all these states, we're competing, and we will win delegates in every one of these states. And then we go to Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, all places where we expect to do well." In his Seneca speech, he also mentioned the latest Gallup poll, which shows him matching Bush 49-48 in a hypothetical runoff.
The senator’s South Carolina State Chairman John Moylan told me Monday night, "we’re going to do it. I think it will be tight. He’s strong across the state, obviously upstate he’ll do well." As to Sen. Kerry, he said, "I think he would like to have the best of both worlds: to suggest ‘I’m sort of taking a pass’ - but he’s pumping money in. I think he may well have figured he does better on tv than he does in person. Every time he comes here his numbers go down. He did his announcement here, and went from 5 to 3 overnight. Bring him back!"
South Carolina is not organized as well by any of the candidates, it seems, but it may be the one state in which Edwards has the advantage in manpower and ground game. Aides say they have hundreds of footsoldiers, and former party chair Dick Harpootlian said he had an Edwards canvasser come to his door, in addition to the autocalls. "He’s running like he’s running for state treasurer," he told me.
Upstate field coordinator Kevin Mertens said they had 300 volunteers over the weekend making phone calls and canvassing. "We have a pretty good database. We feel we’ve ID’ed our supporters. Here in the upstate, the JE story rings particularly close to home, because of the manufacturing and textile base here. Former textile workers who have lost their jobs when the jobs moved overseas."
Staffers are hoping for good weather and heavy turnout, which might bring in more of the independent voters with whom Edwards may have an advantage. They were also pleased that on Monday, the party decided to do away with a pledge that voters have had to complete in the past, saying they consider themselves democrats. Party spokeswoman Katherine Miller told me, "this time it drew a lot of attention. We got a lot of calls from voters who were confused, some of these independent voters and disgruntled Republicans were concerned they couldn’t vote for a Democrat. So the party leadership decided to delete the pledge."
After Feb. 3
"The plan from the get-go, two years ago: it starts here," said SC Edwards chair John Moylan. "That was always the thought: you win here, and you go from there. We go from nine to two. Sooner or later every race comes down to two people. We’re going to be one of the two."
Of course, if Edwards does not win South Carolina, he will face the question, where do you think you can win if you can’t win the state you were born in? "If he doesn’t win here, he’s toast," says former party chairman Dick Harpootlian. "But if Edwards wins here, which I think he will, and places second a couple of other states, I think it’s a Kerry-Edwards race going into Tennessee and Virginia."
Edwards will go straight from South Carolina to Memphis, TN on Tuesday night, in order to focus on Tennessee and Virginia, which vote on Feb. 10. No plans have yet been announced to visit Michigan, which votes on Saturday, but the senator has been scheduled to read the Top 10 list on Letterman on Wednesday, when he will be in New York for a fundraiser. No word yet on any Leno booking.
Friday, Jan. 30
"This is personal to me. I’ve seen mills close, what it does to communities, what it does to families," Sen. Edwards said during Thursday night’s debate. "We have to start with a president who actually understands firsthand what these families are going through. I have lived with this my entire life."
If there is one thing he wrote in his notes, that he wanted to make sure he said during the South Carolina debate, that was it. Afterwards in the spin room, he told us, "I think it was important for me to make sure people understood where I come from and how I can connect it to their lives in a real way."
Sen. Edwards naturally referred to his Carolina roots, as he does at every stop in the state, but advisors tell me they are also aware of the need to come across as more than a regional, southern candidate.
Edwards has the most at stake in South Carolina, and may have had the most at stake in the South Carolina debate as well. Staffers say they have no doubt he will win, but Kerry could knock him out in one fell swoop.
Edwards backer Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina thought his candidate got short shrift. "I thought Brokaw was underwhelming. He seemed to come into this debate with a preconception about what the order was." The least favorite questions for Edwards may have been about gay marriage and about capping malpractice awards, which the senator opposes.
Most likely to be quoted in Friday’s papers: "The president of the United States has to actually be able to walk and chew gum at the same time." Later, in the spin room, Edwards claimed that he does meet that criterion.
Advertising began in Missouri Thursday. According to newly minted Missouri staffer Michael Kelley, "it's a good ad buy," in the 4 big cities that cover most of the state: St Louis, KC, Columbia, and Springfield. Aides say the campaign is not playing to win the state, but to pick up delegates by clearing the 15 percent threshold. The latest MSNBC/Reuters and Kansas City Star polls show Edwards within striking distance, running second at around 10 percent. "We're trying to do in 10 days what you usually do in 6-9 months," says Kelley. The campaign will soon announce endorsements by almost half the state Reps, and aides have not ruled out a second visit by Sen Edwards to the state. The campaign has little interest, though, in the idea of a Missouri debate on Monday night, since the Senator is scheduled to culminate his SC tour with a rally in Seneca, the town he was born in.
Aides say the campaign has raised $1m since the Iowa caucuses, $700,000 of which came over the internet. The senator has also done fundraisers in St Louis, New York, and Boston over the last 10 days. While Howard Dean is winding down his advertising in the Feb 3 states, Edwards is ramping up. Staffers say they are not saving their budget for Michigan (2/7,) in the belief that the minority support they might have aimed for will be undermeasured by the internet voting provision.
Thursday, Jan. 29
Edwards made a trifecta yesterday, by visiting SC and OK and MO in one day. The campaign hopes these states will be kinder to them, and in OK the senator has made a significant investment of time and money, advertising a bit already in September and making a 2-day bus swing in November. "This is my thirteenth visit to OK, far more than any other presidential candidate," he said before launching into his stump speech in Durant. He has visited the town twice, while no other candidate has been there once. The campaign also sent around the latest half-dozen endorsements in the state, including several labor leaders picked up from Gephardt. Turnout there and in Missouri was around 400 or more at each of four events, although that number in St Louis did not approach the number we're told Kerry reached.
Still, Edwards is more focused on SC, which he himself has said is a must-win for him, and central to his electability argument that he can beat Bush in some Southern states if he were the nominee. This morning in South Carolina, turnout was pretty small, although while staffers blamed the weather and the school closure. Asked if he had to win some other state in addition to SC, he demurred, saying only he had to do well, and that there were several states that gave him the opportunity to do so. One top aide said that South Carolina was the only state they were definitely planning on winning on Feb 3. The lowering of expectations is in full swing?
The senator told us Wednesday, "we’re on television in SC, OK, NM. Missouri I think is about to open up the same way." Missouri is a tough decision, because the media buys are in expensive tv stations, so you get less for your buck. "It’s an expensive state, but it’s a delegate-rich state," said Miles Lackey, who pointed out that it’s not winner-take-all, so candidate can pick up delegates without coming in first. But the campaign is already looking ahead to the other Southern states next week: starting Friday Edwards is expected to begin advertising in TN and VA. As far as money goes, an Edwards aid claimed there was a post-NH bump that would help them stay in the game.
Edwards has not won Clyburn’s support, but he pointed out that most of Clyburn’s top aides are for Edwards. Ike Williams, a top Clyburn aide on leave who recently moved from backing Gephardt to backing Edwards, made a comparison unflattering to Kerry, saying that he was skeptical about joining a bandwagon, since in the case of Dukakis, for example, it ended up being a train wreck. SC is one of several states where Edwards does not have major statewide endorsements, but is instead counting on local endorsements, which aides say Edwards picked up in SC and OK by going early and talking to mid-level officials, who they claim are more valuable in terms of actually producing votes.
Wednesday, Jan. 28
In New Hampshire Tuesday night, there were not the high fives among staffers that we saw in Iowa last week. His surging second place finish in Iowa got the campaign’s hopes up, but proved a tough act to follow. While their sights had already been set on Kerry, they are now still contending with Clark and Dean as well. "If we’re in the teens, that’s a great showing in this place," Sen. Edwards said as he was watching the returns in his hotel suite - apparently before the reports came in that he did not finish in the teens. One aide called it "a nail-biting evening," as the AP showed Edwards behind Clark by about 700 votes.
The senator was unusually direct in comparing his finish with Clark’s: "Clark dropped out of Iowa, spent a ton of money here in NH, spent all of his time here in NH, and I’ve been here for the last week, since I left Iowa. I finished a strong second in Iowa, moved up dramatically in the last week. I’ve moved up, we hope - we’ll find out - in the last week here."
Top aides made the best of the situation. "There’s two campaigns going up, and two campaigns going down," said a senior adviser. "We’re happy to be one of the ones going up." The campaign has long said that their goal in NH was a showing respectable enough that they could move on to SC and other Southern states.
Edwards brightened when asked about the next round, saying with a grin, "Well, now we go to other places, don’t we… Now we move to OK, SC and MO, NM, other places where it’s a more level playing field." Edwards will focus primarily on South Carolina, where he will finish the week with a Hootie & the Blowfish concert.
Due to bad weather in South Carolina, Edwards will do morning shows from Columbia SC before a rally in his must-win state. No more vans for the press corps - there is now a full-size bus to get around South Carolina, and two small charter jets instead of one for hopscotching around early states to do tarmac touchdowns and events in far-flung Midwest locations. But the campaign style will be different from the intimacy of appearing in every town, the style in Iowa which played to his strengths. "It will be harder to have as much intimate contact with voters," Edwards told us upstairs in his hotel, "but we’ll do as much as we possibly can."
Money will become more of an issue, now that the campaign moves to so many states. While aides believe they will have the cash to last through Feb 10, it is a telling sign that the campaign has not begun advertising in Missouri, even though the state is wide open. The campaign began advertising Tuesday in NM, and is on the air in SC and OK, but not AZ.
Tuesday, Jan. 20
From everything I can tell, Sen. Edwards and his staffers were surprised to do so well in Iowa. During a brief visit to his suite upstairs in the hotel, at around 8 p.m. ET, he was watching the returns on TV with his wife and several top aides. “It’s such a surprise,” he said. “No one predicted this.”
At 3 a.m., at his New Hampshire rally, he was clearly energized, and apparently oblivious to the fact that his morning television engagements were only a few hours away. “I can work 24 hours a day if that’s what it takes,” he said.
Is there a bounce? “We’ll find out, but I believe so,” said Edwards. N.H. spokesman Colin van Ostern: “It’s a whole new ballgame. A lot of people will take a serious look at him.” Campaign manager Nick Baldick: "Now we have the wind at our backs, we have New Hampshire, and we'll meet you in Columbia (SC) on Feb. 3rd."
Staffers predicted little change in the campaign’s approach in N.H. “Why change - it’s working,” said a top campaigner. “My campaign message is what I am, so it certainly won’t change,” said Edwards.
Edwards faces a tighter, and more crowded, field in N.H., but he has not opted to skip New Hampshire and focus on South Carolina and Oklahoma instead. From now until the primaries, his schedule has only one day outside of New Hampshire.
Asked by reporters about Wesley Clark, Edwards made note of the fact that Clark has never campaigned for office before, or “won a single vote.” Both southern centrist alternative candidates, the two could become key rivals in both New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Monday, Jan. 19
Edwards will do meet-and-greet at a TopValue, a minority-owned business, with State Rep. Wayne Ford, to note MLK day. He will also do events in Cedar Rapids and Davenport, but don’t look for big rallies like the ones this weekend. All able-bodied staffers and volunteers are instead assigned to phone banking or door-to-door, focusing on turnout.
According to Charlie Cook, "if Edwards takes off tomorrow, it will be spontaneous combustion. It’s not organization." Organization was not the campaign’s strong suit this weekend, when the senator kept audiences waiting for as long as an hour on all three days, and was introduced by halting speakers in Davenport and Mason City.
But Edwards is not willing to concede a weak organization when it comes to get out the vote. "My campaign is not built from the top down. My campaign is built from the bottom up. It’s based on the support I have on the ground from regular Iowans," he said, "and I think it will show."
To keep up with the better financing and organization of his rivals, Edwards needs more people like Laurie Walsh, of Phoenix AZ. She told me she came by van with 8 people, driving for 27 hours straight, in order to volunteer for three final days.
As always, Edwards was relaxed and loose all weekend, occasionally bantering with his audience. "He’s been going all day, but he looks like he was just unwrapped," said an older man in the audience. Rarely prone to gaffes or misstatements, Edwards is slow to start in the morning, if he hasn’t had a run, but late in the day, when the journalists have reached the point where the batteries of our cell phones, our laptops, and our cameras are running out of juice, the Senator still appears fully charged. "I hope you all are enjoying this as much as I am," he told the audience late Saturday in Winterset, IA, at about 10pm.
Edwards drew a crowd of about 700 in Des Moines on Sunday, 200 of whom had to be accommodated in an overflow room (either because the room was too small, or because the crowd was so big, depending on whom you ask.)
Sunday, Jan. 18
With just one day until the caucuses, there is an extra pring in the step of Edwards. The Des Moines register poll shos him in second place and rising over the four-day period of the poll. His bus drives right out onto the airport tarmac, where a Gulfstream 2 awaits to fly him around the state of iowa -- a welcome upgrade for a candidate (and a press orps) that has been speeding across the state for months by minivan.
En route, the conversation ranges from politics to sports to the news of the day, with the senator, as ever, unable to resist teasing his stafers. Friday night, as we rode with him on the bus, he wa testing them for not following his every word during every speech: "In the middle of some critical moment in my speech, they're walking around, looking out the window, putting a cookin in your mouth. The least you could do is stay out of my line of sight." He produly shows off the boots he wears with a suit, which an eventgoer recently pointed to and said, You're a bravve man to wear those boots with a suit." Edwards shows them proudly on the bus. "Did you see I was wearing them during the debates," he asks, laughing like he just got away with something.
For a campaign that has long been stuck in the single digits, in both Iowa nd New Hamsphire, it has been a breakout week, after months in the wilderness. The press corps that travels with him is also feeling the difference, now that there is usually a crush of media at his events, and the crowds are regularly in the 200-300 ange. We're told that, on Saturday night, they had a hard count of 670, the senator's largest turnout to date. There's a rrisk, of course, that expectations may shoot up and outstrip the eventual reults. Edwards does his best, like his staff, to remind us that it's just one poll, and tells us that Iowa caucus polling isnot easy to do with confidence. "The problem is, there are lots of polls, and some have you one place and some have another," he said. "I don't know how reliable they are."
He is not a political junkie, but he can still get into the weeds, which he does during one leg of the plane ride. "I'm the second choice of a huge number of caucusgoers. Also, they're persuadable, - this poll shows there is a significant number of people who can have theirminds changed, and that occurs at caucuses. Most caucusgoers have a very favroable impression of me, so if the person they're fo rdoes not get it, they'll naturally gravitate to me. By the way, I think that says something for the general election context, because you need somebody that can appeal across a wide range of voters."
Friday, Jan. 16
The happy warrior
Edwards was clearly the happy warrior Friday, perhaps due to polls showing him within striking distance of third place. A month ago, he worked hard to bring the energy to his audience. Now he is drawing energy from them, as he was at Cedar Rapids, where a crowd of 350 people left 50 people spilling out into the halls. In the middle of his speech, he stopped and said, "Are you all enjoying this as much as I am?" He pointed to the people out the door into the cold, jumping up and down to stay warm.
Being tired is no problem, he told us later. He is using both a plane and the monster luxury tour bus to get around. His family has come out to be here and we're logging more than 500 miles a day. Even now, he takes the time to visit rural areas and mid-sized cities, even though he makes sure to hit one major media market per day.
Edwards faces candidates with more money (Dean and Kerry) and candidates with union organization (Dean and Gephardt) but did little to lower expectations, telling us that he has been organizing in the state for a year.
The back-and-forth between the leading three candidates could leave an opening for Edwards as "Mr. Positive." When I talk to voters at his events, they express reservations about the depth of his experience, but they like that he's a fresh face and that he is not a long-time politician. His events are moving more away from issues and policy, and more and more toward closing rallies. He no longer plays "Small Town," using "Your Time is Now" (also Mellencamp,) and he closes with some bland uplifting rhetoric about lifting people up and believing in you, rather than his old war-horse about the son of a mill worker beating the son of a president.
Monday, Jan. 12
High fives for Register endorsement
There were high fives, hugs, and plenty of back-slapping at Edwards’ Iowa headquarters over the weekend, thanks to the endorsement that appeared in Sunday's Des Moines Register.
"The more we watched him, the more we read his speeches and studied his positions, the more we saw him comport himself in debate, the more we learned about his life story, the more our editorial board came to conclude he’s a cut above the others," the paper wrote. "What a clear and attractive choice an Edwards vs. Bush fall campaign would offer. Beginning in the Iowa caucuses next Monday, Democrats would do well to give that choice to Americans."
The senator got word while he was on the road, and beat the roof of the minivan with his palms. "There was a little bit of yelling in the van," he said, and by the time he got to his next event, a candidate who is already preternaturally sunny was as energetic as ever.
It was almost midnight when he got back to his Des Moines headquarters and cut loose with his staff, with plenty of backslapping and chanting, as he thanked his staffers and volunteers. Other candidates and their staffs, like Dean, are used to getting high-profile endorsements every week, but for the Edwards staff, this was a novelty, and their first real moment in the sun. When I called the office, after 2 a.m., there was still plenty of noise in the background.
The senator and his inner circle, meanwhile, celebrated in a style befitting a populist candidate. "We had an incredible celebration. We went to Wendy’s, and everybody got - what are those things called? Frostees. Everybody had Frostees. I had a double cheeseburgers, and that was our celebration."
The impact hasn’t yet registered in the MSNBC tracking poll Monday, but it was clearly a factor in his turnout on Sunday and Monday. But Monday’s media clips included an invitation from the "Today" show and a long profile in the New York Times, and the staff added a charter plane for today's Iowa travel. At an event Sunday, the campaign said more than 500 people had signed in, and many of the people at his events told me they came because they had heard about the endorsement, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
The challenge now is for Edwards to turn those window-shoppers into caucus-going supporters, in hopes of challenging Kerry for third place. Pulling even with the Massachusetts senator would likely be seen as a significant accomplishment for Edwards.
Edwards is counting on there still being enough undecideds out there that he can win new supporters in the final week. "I think it’s a very fluid race right now," he said Sunday. "I had a guy say, last time I was here, ‘I need one of those Edwards yard signs.. I need to replace the Dean sign in my yard.’"
Friday, Jan. 9
On the Dean tapes
Edwards issued the following statement in response to comments that Dean made about the Iowa caucuses: "Despite what others have said, I firmly believe that the Iowa caucuses are an invaluable part of the presidential nominating process. Caucusgoers take their responsibilities very seriously and they are beholden to no one. I will always appreciate what I have learned by campaigning in all of Iowa's 99 counties, and I want to thank Iowans for welcoming me into their homes, coffee shops and community centers. It's wrong for outsiders to come in and make disparaging remarks about things they don't understand, and I want all Iowans to know that I understand this from firsthand experience and that this is something that I would not do."
Tuesday, Jan. 6
Edwards has considerably revised his stump speech, dropping many of the issue positions and policy specifics, and focusing more on choosing a president. "I’m past all the fluff," he told voters on Monday. "The time for infatuations is over. It’s time to pick a president." In particular, he is addressing directly the issues of his youth and his relatively limited experience in government. Just two weeks from the Iowa voting, Edwards is still addressing people’s reservations, but the campaign describes this as a planned post-holiday move, turning the corner from making his case to closing the deal.
His stump speech also seems to still be a work in progress, undergoing significant change over the last 10 days. The speech he gave Monday diverged from his prepared text; the prepared text for Saturday’s speech was not even provided.
Edwards got pretty good reviews for this debate (and the most airtime,) and he is still optimistic when asked about his chances, saying Monday that at his campaign stops, "we’re expecting 50 or 75 people, and instead there are 200." His turnouts on Monday ranged from 75 to 125 over four stops in central Iowa, plus a speech in Des Moines that drew a heavy media turnout. He says to voters, "I am so ready for this fight — you have got to give me a chance to take on George Bush." But one of the things he has added to his campaign speech is an underdog riff, about how he has been dismissed before: "Your daddy works in a mill, what makes you think you can go to college and law school? What does this young attorney think he can do to us corporate lawyers?"
Edwards and his traveling staff hope to be riding Air Force One a year from now, but in the meantime they sometimes fly commercial. Navigating the terminal with a family of five, which the senator did last weekend, is a bit of a circus. Emma Claire, age 5, asks for ice cream, while Jack, age 3, goofs off in front of the MSNBC campaign cam, before taking up the camera himself and shooting some video of obliging campaign staffers. "I’m being filmed by Jack Edwards," the press secretary says to whoever she’s on the phone with. The footage is not broadcast quality, but Jack clearly has an interest.
For this flight, the senator was assigned the seat next to your embed, who promptly missed an opportunity by offering his seat to Mrs. Edwards. The senator was keen to know how many television cameras were at the last event (I counted only four), which print reporters were there, and whether the other papers would at least run the AP story. Meanwhile, Mrs. Edwards, who is very much up to speed on the campaigning, asked me how the visuals had looked at the Nashua speech. We looked at the footage on my laptop together, and despite the rain, she thought it looked fine.
On a flight like this one, the senator kids his staffers, orders a glass of white wine, pulls out his rarely seen glasses, and looks at a paperback. The passenger behind him, like many voters, can’t believe he’s 50. His one in-flight transgression: not waiting for the fasten-seat-belt light to go off before unbuckling.
Wednesday, Dec. 17
Ain't that America?
Edwards often tells rural audiences that he feels an affinity for middle America, and when I look back at my transcripts of him, I see he has often told voters, "I grew up in a small town." Sunday night, he held a fund-raiser at a farmhouse in rural Illinois, where we were directed to park on a snowy, furrowed field. Upstairs, in a large room steamed up by a packed house, the senator gave a short speech, and then introduced the night’s headliner: John Mellencamp, whose 1982 hit "Small Town" is the campaign’s theme song. Mellencamp played "Pink Houses," "To Washington," a skipping blues number I hadn’t heard before, and finished with "Small Town," which prompted Edwards to break out with a grin. Most of the crowd was more demonstrative than he was, but your embed did detect some senatorial foot-tapping and head-nodding, and even a little singing along for the refrain,"Ain't that America?" Between songs, he said, "Are these guys great, or what?"
Mellencamp told me he was flattered that "Small Town" had become a campaign song, but when I asked him about politics he said, "I better keep that to myself."
Friday, Dec. 12
Commonwealth Club speech
Edwards is speaking Friday afternoon in San Francisco, at a monthly public affairs newsmaker forum where a year ago, Al Gore broke his silence and delivered a blistering critique of Bush foreign policy. We’re told to look for Edwards to address the state of the race, and lay out his case for why he might be considered the emerging alternative to Dean.
Sunday’s fundraiser in Illinois will feature John Mellencamp, whose 1985 classic rock anthem “Small Town” is used by the senator as his theme song. The Edwards itinterary often takes him to smaller towns and rural crossroads, where he plays up his small town roots. From the song: “My job is so small town. Provides little opportunity.”
A look at the Edwards schedule reminds us that we’re nearing the end of another quarter: there are few public events, and plenty of time for fundraisers in places like New York, California, Chicago, and Houston. On a recent trip to Iowa, the senator had a fundraising aide accompanying him, so he could hit the phone while speeding from event to event.
On the media
From an e-mail to supporters: “seriously, if the only place you get your news is the New York Times, you don't know what is really happening in this race.” Perhaps to redress that situation, this morning Edwards did a chatty appearance on ESPN2, where he finished off by shooting hoops on the set. Also, 60 Minutes will run a profile this Sunday, which the campaign says is the only candidate profile this year on the Sunday franchise.
Wednesday, Dec. 10
Low marks for debate
Edwards and his staffers gave this debate pretty low marks. The problem: too much horse race, and not enough issues. “I think it was frustrating for people at home here in New Hampshire watching,” the senator told me. “I’ll bet you after 15 minutes they were tired of listening to who was where in somebody’s poll. Instead, what are you going to do about our health care problem? What are you going to do about jobs?” To hit on substantive issues, he said, “you had to ram it into some question about some poll, or some endorsement.” The question Edwards probably liked the least was this one, from Ted Koppel: “You’re not doing terrific in the polls, either. And you do have a lot of money, and you came into this race with huge expectations being raised. What’s gone wrong with the campaign?”
Tuesday, Dec. 9
Al Gore had Edwards on his short list in 2000, as a fellow centrist from the South, but ultimately he picked Lieberman. Now Edwards is 0 for 2. “We have a great deal of respect for the vice president,” was all the folks in Raleigh had to say. “Our focus in on the voters, and they’ll make their decision soon enough.” Instead, the campaign let us know about other endorsements that Edwards picked up Monday, including a state legislator in South Carolina, one in Iowa, and the Chickasaw county attorney. An e-mail from Raleigh also calls our attention to former basketball star Charles Barkley’s appearance on MSNBC this weekend. He told Jesse Ventura, “The one guy I like is Sen. John Edwards. I’m not sure he can win. I like him the best out of all the Democrats.”
Friday, Dec. 5
Lobbying against lobbyists
As advertised, Edwards called for broader restrictions on lobbyists, focusing much of his rhetoric on how the influence of special interests is hurting working families on everything from Medicare to the energy bill. In particular, he singled out Thomas Scully, the head of Medicare, for negotiating a return to lobbying even as the prescription drug bill was being negotiated. Edwards drew almost 400 listeners, but Kerry drew around 800 in the same auditorium on Monday, said an audience member sitting next to me. Students may have expected a broad campaign speech, but instead heard a focused policy address. When Edwards stands behind a podium in a suit, with his policy speech in a binder, he can’t match the relaxed ease with which he speaks to smaller gatherings in diners, living rooms, and event halls. During the question period, the head of the student Republicans challenged him on the fact that a majority of his contributions come from lawyers or their families or employees. Edwards countered that he took no money from lobbyists or PACs, and is no tool of the lawyer lobby because he proposes having the legal profession regulate itself.
Tuesday, Dec. 2
Iowa caucuses are a meticulous process that require very organized campaigning. As an example, consider the update Edwards got from local precinct captain Tom Carsner. He said if 200 people attend his caucus they need 30 votes for Edwards before their vote will count, and so far, he has 14 or 15 firm commitments. Carsner told me that he can call pretty much all 200 Democrats in his precinct and he finds undecideds a bigger challenge than Dean supporters. “For those that like him, I’m not going to worry much about that. But those that don’t, from what I’m hearing, they’re saying it’s between Kerry and Edwards. If I could get half of those people, I’d be happy.” Edwards told us Monday, “Over half of the caucus-goers in Iowa are still considering more than one person. Still trying to make a final decision about who they want to support.”
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