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Life after John Edwards
02-04-2008
(Note: this entry was originally posted on Thursday, January 31st. A server error accidentally removed it from the website yesterday, so I am posting it again.)
 
John Edwards has been running for president for so long that it will feel genuinely weird to not have him on-stage at tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in California (CNN, 8 p.m.). Edwards has had some of his best moments of the campaign at these forums, and the political discourse will likely be a little less crisp without his participation. While no one was particularly surprised to see Rudy Giuliani drop out of the Republican race in the wake of his disappointing finish in Florida, Edwards’ withdrawal from the Democratic contest yesterday was largely unexpected.

Some supporters have argued that Edwards was simply undone by his inability to match the prodigious fundraising of two celebrity candidates. Insufficient fundraising success may have been part of the problem, but I have been skeptical of Edwards’ chances for other reasons.  While much has been made of the strength of Edwards' populist message this time around, his anti-poverty agenda was too narrow to build the kind of coalition necessary to win a presidential nomination. This inherent limitation was compounded by the fact that, as Edwards struggled to get political traction, his increasingly strident, us-versus-them tone on the stump was a turnoff to some voters in the party.

Edwards might have been better served by a continuation of the centrist Southern gentleman persona that showed so much promise in 2004, but he has said many times that what we are seeing now is his authentic political self. So, as Edwards ponders a possible presidential endorsement, it will be fascinating to watch precisely how he goes about ensuring continued visibility for his agenda, both at the convention and in November.


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