8 on ’08: Edwards Decides To Move Forward

In a week with a lot of ups and downs, we see once again how hard the 2008 presidential campaign will be to predict. Here's our weekly roundup gives you everything you need to know to navigate the cocktail parties this weekend.

By: Garrett M. Graff

We skipped last week’s column because, frankly, there weren’t eight major developments in the presidential race, but this week is another story. It was packed with news on all sides. Here’s what you need to know:

1) Many involved in the 2008 race spent a day wondering whether John Edwards’s “announcement” yesterday would be the end of his presidential race. It wasn’t, and it’s certainly too soon to tell what affect the recurrence of Elizabeth Edwards’s cancer will have on the race. Some observers wonder whether Edwards will be forced to withdraw down the road but just couldn’t face doing that immediately this week. As much as the attention may gain him some sympathy, it will also make potential staff and donors a little more wary about getting on board with a candidate in a highly competitive race who has a major question mark hanging over him.

2) Before the Edwards announcement, another major story this week was the pro-Barack Obama anti-Hillary Clinton parody of the ‘1984’ Apple ad. Originally pegged as a “grassroots-generated” ad, word broke Wednesday that it was actually a staffer at Barack Obama’s internet consulting firm—hardly the impartial outsider that the story had seemed to imply. Also on the YouTube front, Mitt Romney faced yet another week of embarrassing clips of his former positions. He’s having a tough time breaking out of the meme that his current positions are merely politically expedient for the GOP race.

3) The close of the critical first fundraising quarter is next week, and there was a sign this week that John McCain may not be as formidable as everyone expected. A Monday fundraiser in Philadelphia that was supposed to bring in $500,000 was scaled back by 60 percent to a $200,000 event—not a good sign for a campaign that’s hoping to distance itself from the rest of the field with a strong fundraising figure. It’s widely believed that McCain, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani are the only candidates currently in the race who can raise the money to be competitive in the cycle. Romney’s fundraising is going gangbusters, and if he matches or beats McCain’s number, it would be an expectations upset.

4) As the primary calendar continues to shift, Rudy Giuliani’s chances start to look a whole lot better. While voters in rural states might not be won over by his liberal policy positions and general “New Yorkness,” the larger states moving up their primaries to early February and maybe even January could mute the impact of rural states dramatically. If so, Rudy, who is making some strong strides in donor circles, may just break out without ever having to trudge through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire.

5) John McCain had a public and almost childish exchange with the conservative group Club for Growth this week in which the anti-tax group and McCain’s campaign posted dueling YouTube videos criticizing the other. Coming on top of skipping the CPAC convention, where he was roundly booed, it’s another sign of McCain eschewing the traditional bastions of support in the GOP, which may strengthen his “maverick” image but at the same time undermines support he’ll need to make it through the primaries.

6) Barack Obama’s crowds on the campaign trail are becoming their own story. In Oakland last weekend he found a 10,000-person crowd, and numbers like that aren’t rare for him at this point. The enthusiasm for him on the campaign trail this far out from an election is surprising. In 2003 Howard Dean attracted then-record-breaking crowds like Obama’s in August; while that support didn’t necessarily translate into votes, it certainly helped boost the campaign’s momentum. If Obama can harness the support now and keep the enthusiasm up, it’ll have a major impact on the race.

7) Democratic candidates are busy courting labor unions. Tomorrow most of the major candidates will convene in Las Vegas for a health-care forum sponsored by the powerhouse SEIU. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both have had dinner recently with a group that includes leaders of the United Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Communications Workers of America. The unions pose an interesting conundrum for Democrats: If Edwards hopes to knock off Hillary and Obama in the primary, he needs some strong (and preferably early) help from organized labor, which, apart from the firefighters, didn’t play a major role in the 2004 primaries. If the unions start to break for Hillary or Obama or split between them, Edwards is going to have a nearly impossible road ahead of him.
 
8) George Pataki has quietly passed the word among his staffers that they’re free to go to work for other campaigns because it appears unlikely he’ll run. The decision narrows the field of top-tier GOP candidates by one. With Newt Gingrich, Chuck Hagel, and Fred Thompson hanging off to the side for now, there’s still a lot that could develop in the GOP field.