Forget John Kerry’s 38 percent and his 12 Iowa delegates. The real winner in Iowa Monday night was John Edwards. The North Carolina senator could not have scripted a better outcome.
The obvious good news is that a candidate who was polling in single digits two weeks ago snagged a solid 32 percent of the vote–a higher percentage than the combined total for Howard Dean (18 percent) and Dick Gephardt (11 percent). The fact is, Edwards didn’t need to do anything more than be competitive in Iowa to keep his campaign alive. Edwards’s Iowa performance was practically showboating for a southerner with few ties to big labor and its organizational abilities.
Actually, that should probably read “alleged abilities” after the collapse of the UAW’s favorite son, Dick Gephardt. And Gephardt’s demise was the best news of the night for John Edwards because of the impact it has on black voters in South Carolina.
In December, South Carolina’s most influential black politician, Rep. Jim Clyburn, endorsed Gephardt, a backing based on institutional loyalty and genuine affection. But with Gephardt gone, Clyburn is now free to make a more pragmatic and effective endorsement, and that’s likely to be Edwards.
The fact is, all indicators in S.C. were that Gephardt was a nonstarter. A big win in Iowa could have given him some momentum, but in a state that is generally hostile to organized labor, there wasn’t much heat behind Gephardt. In addition, there has yet to be a poll showing Gephardt doing well among black voters in South Carolina or southern voters in general–he was still in single digits in the most recent South Carolina polling.
With Gephardt gone, Jim Clyburn can travel the state with Edwards, a candidate who is from the south, connects with black voters, understands the tricky racial landscape, and who is less likely to upset the state’s anti-union business interests who generally support Clyburn. Gephardt’s absence also frees up the textile workers of the South Carolina upstate region who were attracted to the Missouri congressman’s anti-trade stance. Their next logical choice is fellow (former) mill worker, John Edwards.
If Clyburn does as expected, watch for Edwards to jump into first place in the South Carolina polling next week.
But there’s still more good news for Edwards, and that is the possibility of heading to South Carolina for a one-on-one fight with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Other than Kerry’s impressive war record, it’s hard to imagine a candidate less suited for victory in the cradle of the Confederacy than Kerry.
First of all, he’s from Massachusetts, and I only exaggerate slightly when I say that, in South Carolina, asserting that someone is from Massachusetts isn’t an observation, it’s an accusation.
In South Carolina, “Massachusetts” is political shorthand for “mandatory homosexual marriages between welfare moms at tax-funded abortion clinics.” It is assumed that people from Massachusetts are effete snobs who order their dinner in French with a haughty air. Kerry isn’t helped by the fact that, in his case, this happens to be true.
Not surprisingly, Kerry has very few public supporters or endorsements in South Carolina, in part because there’s no mileage for local pols in having supported him after the February 3 primary is over. It’s likely such support would be used against a politician in a future campaign.
Kerry made matters slightly worse when he mistakenly claimed on Friday he had the support of S.C. Democratic state senate leader John Land and had to retract it. He did so attempting to answer the question, “How do you hope to win in the South.” A satisfactory answer to that question is still awaited in South Carolina.
It’s likely that, as Dean’s star fades into a dying ember (I predict he will not be a factor in South Carolina), some of his ideological supporters will go to the more liberal Kerry. But Edwards has wisely avoided making any negative attacks against Dean or Gephardt and is able to solicit supporters from both camps. As for ideology, Edwards may be happy and smiling, but he’s still serving up red-meat class warfare and his position on Iraq is nearly identical to Kerry’s. There’s no reason he can’t pick up supporters from the center and the left after the field is winnowed again in New Hampshire.
In fact, running against the Massachusetts liberal John Kerry and the babbling, incoherent megaloman…er, I mean “Arkansas centrist” Wesley Clark, Edwards will be able to achieve Clintonian triangulation in the South Carolina primary. The true liberals will go to Kerry, the voters who really wish Ross Perot would get into the race will back Clark, but the textile vote, the black vote, the moderate vote, and the favorite-son vote will all be scooped up by Edwards
Edwards doesn’t even need to win New Hampshire. But with the good luck he’s having, don’t bet against it.
–Radio-talk-host Michael Graham covers southern politics from his home in Virginia. He is an NRO contributor.