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Why Edwards isn't the presidential nominee

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., celebrates with supporters during a post South Carolina Primary rally, Tuesday Feb. 3, 2004, in Columbia, S.C. Charlie Neibergall / AP

Between the rise and fall of Howard Dean, and the rise of John Kerry, somehow John Edwards got lost in the shuffle, which just goes to prove politics is rarely fair.

The Edwards campaign was arguably the best run and least lucky campaign of all the Democratic campaigns in this cycle. At least three instances of rotten luck hampered a brilliantly run campaign by Edwards and his team.

  • The misfortune started for Edwards on the day of the announcement of his candidacy. Edwards was overshadowed by Gen. Wesley Clark’s announcement that he was going to throw his hat into the ring the following day. The press went wild over the general’s announcement of his announcement, and left Edwards with almost no coverage of his official entry into the race.
  • The second piece of bad luck for Edwards happened the day Howard Dean opted out of public funding and the spending restrictions that go along with it.  Dean was opting out in order to be financially competitive with George Bush and in hopes of raising $200 million to match Bush dollar for dollar over the summer.  But Dean’s decision forced Kerry to opt out as well.  The Kerry campaign didn’t opt out to compete with Bush (though that would be a side effect that would later benefit the Kerry campaign).  No, the Kerry campaign opted out so that Senator Kerry could write a $6.4 million personal check to keep his campaign alive and fund a last ditch effort in Iowa— and that was a very unlucky break for Edwards.
    Both Kerry and Edwards needed Howard Dean to collapse, but John Edwards received 32% of the vote in Iowa without writing a $6.4 million dollar check to his own campaign, and without the robo-calling organizing prowess of Michael Whouley, perhaps the best organizer of his generation. The Edwards campaign got almost a third of the vote in Iowa on the raw talent of John Edwards, and on the strength of a brilliantly executed campaign strategy that was woefully underfunded when compared to the spending of Dean and Kerry and the awesome organization that Kerry paid for out of his own pocket.
    The English historian, E. A. Freeman, put it this way: “History is past politicsand politics present history.” If Dean hadn’t opted out, Kerry doesn’t opt out—and John Edwards wins Iowa. The truth is that John Kerry’s ability to spend money without restrictions had little if anything to do with Howard Dean’s collapse, but $6.4 million and Michael Whouley made the difference between Kerry winning and Edwards coming in only six points behind him. Those two factors are the reason that Democrats will be celebrating the Kerry/Edwards ticket days from now at the convention in Boston instead of an Edwards/Kerry ticket.
  • John Edwards would be haunted with one last piece of horribly bad luck. Instead of reporting the two miracle finishes (Edwards’ 32% in Iowa was arguably just as newsworthy if not more so then Kerry’s 38%) the press reported Kerry’s win and Howard Dean’s scream.  

Politics is never fair— but the Kerry team would be wise to listen to the Edwards folks— they ran the better campaign.