AFTER THE INITIAL SKIRMISH, EDWARDS WOULD CAPITALIZE
The idea seems inconceivable within the parameters of national polls or any casual conversaton with your neighbor, but the liklihood of Sen. Hillary Clinton finishing third in Iowa is very plausible.
A Newsweek poll last week had Sen. Barack Obama at 28 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers, Sen. Clinton at 24 percent and John Edwards at 22 percent.
What if Edwards's formidable organization in Iowa eeks out a few percentage point from Clinton or, more likely, Obama's and drops the presumptive Democratic nominee to the bronze medal? What would be the ramifications and who would gain momentum in such an outcome?
Make no mistake about it, the political establishment would explode in this doomsday scenario. The Clinton inevitability factor is so omnipresent, that the shock could derail her campaign permanently like a third-place showing in Iowa did for Howard Dean in 2004.
Most likely, the nomination would be up-for-grabs in the short term, even pulling Bill Richardson, currently polling at around 10 percent, into the fray. Because of his huge reservoir of cash, Obama would get a second look from Democrats who yearn for a fresh face, despite their loyalty to all things Clinton, but it might not last long.
In this scenario, Edwards could continue to stay just under the radar while the ravenous Clinton campaign throws every sharp object in the kitchen at Obama. She would most likely gain some momentum back from him to the point where he would have to return fire or lose the top spot all together.
This would be a great point of contention in an Obama camp were the mantra has been to run a completely kind-hearted campaign. This strategy worked early on, but it's idealism will become a curse later because in the rough-and-tumble world of politics the nice guy will never win. If Obama stubbornly sticks to this plan he will regret it in exactly the same way Al Gore dropped the ball when he shunned Bill Clinton in 2000.
What's left then? Edwards. From the start the strategy has been to highlight the plight of the poorest Americans, continue to build strong union support in early primary states like Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina and, above all, hope Clinton and Obama begin to spar with each other.
Edwards not only runs third in national polls, but also in funding. The prevailing idea when it comes to Edwards' longevity is predicated on him parlaying his organization in early states like Iowa with labor's strong support in some of those same early states. A strong showing early would then feed upon itself.
This unique political stratagem has been what drew me back to Edwards' campaign, but also a bit of a hugh gamble. If Clinton stumbles in Iowa, it could make Edwards's campaign the stuff of election legend.