All pundits were left to ponder John Edwards’ third-place finish in South Carolina Saturday night. Why was he staying in the race? And would that help Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama? And does he plan to be a spoiler or a so-called kingmaker at a so-called brokered convention?
The answer, according to a media teleconference hosted by three of his campaign heavies at noon Monday: Edwards is still a contender, thank you very much. Senior adviser Joe Trippi, campaign manager David Bonior and deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince all made the case that at least 10 of the 22 Feb. 5 states were in play for Edwards to pick up delegates — including Minnesota, where Edwards will pay a visit to the Carpenters Union Hall in St. Paul Tuesday night.
“We’re making an aggressive media buy in 10 states, significant media buys, where we can have a real impact in these areas and in this race,” Bonior said. “Polling data is running in high teens to low 20s. As we’ve said many times, this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
All well and good, but Edwards faces two significant hurdles: Money and delegate counts.
On the money issue, the trio sounded an upbeat note — perhaps too upbeat — declaring that Edwards had raised $4 million online thus far in January, an 81 percent increase from December, and matching government funds will likely bring that to $7 million. (Edwards is the only one of the big three to not opt out of matching fund money, and his people noted that he is not taking PAC or lobbyist money.) “To make an extrapolation in that, that would be $21 million for a quarter,” Bonior said. “A while ago … that would have been a big, big story.”
The money flowed after the South Carolina debate, according to Trippi, after “John Edwards gave an incredible performance.” He now has, his team insisted, resources to compete in all 22 Super Tuesday states — and staffers and volunteers have been dutifully dispatched.
As for the delegate count, Prince parsed some fuzzy math to indicate “scenarios where we could win the nomination.” According to Prince, Obama has 60 delegates so far, Clinton has 40 and Edwards has 23. But other estimates — not counting projections — have those figures at more like 63, 48 and 26. Prince pointed out that of the 4,049 delegates, only about 80 percent are “available to candidates throughout the contest,” the rest going to “super delegates” come convention time. To get 2,025 — “50 percent plus one” — according to Prince’s math, a candidate would “have to get roughly 60 percent before convention is in play. When you have three candidates, that is essentially impossible, somebody would have to be getting close to 80 percent of vote” in each state.
So Prince imagines a “worst-case scenario” where Edwards goes into the convention with 20 to 25 percent of the delegates, and the other two candidates have 35 to 40 percent. This obviously puts Edwards in position to determine where to throw his support, possibly in a brokered convention, but that’s not the front Team Edwards was putting on. Prince pointed to Bill Clinton’s late comeback in 1992, and claimed that many voters hadn’t yet been exposed to the Edwards message — never mind whether his message helps Clinton or Obama.
In fact, when a reporter asked whom Edwards would endorse in a brokered convention, Prince bristled. “I didn’t say we were hoping for that — John Edwards is a real player in the delegate fight,” he said. “We’ll make a decision about the best way to use delegates when we’re there.”