Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Newsbreak: Edwards will drop out of the race today

Just in from the Associated Press:
Democrat John Edwards is exiting the presidential race Wednesday, ending a scrappy underdog bid in which he steered his rivals toward progressive ideals while grappling with family hardship that roused voter's sympathies but never diverted his campaign, The Associated Press has learned.
The two-time White House candidate notified a close circle of senior advisers that he planned to make the announcement at a 1 p.m. EST event in New Orleans that had been billed as a speech on poverty, according to two of his advisers. The decision came after Edwards lost the four states to hold nominating contests so far to rivals who stole the spotlight from the beginning — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
I confess that I am a little surprised about this. I felt pretty confident that Edwards would stick it out through the Democratic convention--which might turn out to be a genuinely contested convention, where delegates pledged to Edwards could play a decisive role. The fact that I seem to have been mistaken about this is not so startling, since I don't pretend to much expertise as a political handicapper. But a number of other analysts who know more about such things than I do also seem to have guessed wrong. (As Josh Marshall plausibly asked just a week ago, "Seriously, why should John Edwards drop out of the race?".)

What does this mean for the other Democratic candidates? That's not clear. As I noted a few weeks ago:
Most commentary about the Democratic race has taken it for granted that Edwards's continued presence in the race helps Clinton, because he "splits the anti-Clinton vote." I don't pretend to any great expertise on these matters, but I'm not so sure. The kinds of people who have been voting for Edwards--for example, working-class Democrats, union members, and so on--have also been supporting Clinton more than Obama. I suspect that if Edwards were to be knocked out of the race, Obama and Clinton might simply split the Edwards voters.
Various polling results tend to back up this impression.

On the other hand, all this might change to some extent if Edwards strongly endorses either Obama or Clinton, though that's not certain either. According to Greg Sargent at TPM:
An Edwards adviser confirms to me that John Edwards won't be making any endorsement "for the moment."

However, this source refused to rule out the possibility of an endorsement before Feb. 5th, which is six days away. If Edwards were to throw his support to either Hillary or Obama before that date, the impact could obviously be huge.
Could be. Stay tuned.

--Jeff Weintraub