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Edwards: Change-Agent-in-Chief

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Coming off a debate performance in which he sought dismiss Hillary Rodham Clinton as a defender of the status quo, John Edwards turned his focus to Barack Obama at a town hall gathering in the Queen City today.

John Edwards shakes hands with supporters in Manchester on Sunday. (REUTERS)

Edwards told the crowd -- packed cheek to jowl into the Franco-American Centre (who knew?) in downtown Manchester -- that the race was now down to "two candidates for change with very different approaches" to bringing it about.

To illustrate his point, Edwards had the family of Nataline Sarkisyan -- the teenager who died just before Christmas after an insurance company initially denied a liver transplant for her -- on hand as well as James Lowe, a coal miner born with a cleft palate who has unable to pay for corrective surgery for nearly five decades. (Lowe has been a part of Edwards stump speech for weeks; the Sarkisyans are a recent addition.)

Both the Sarkisyans and Lowe were there to illustrate that Edwards doesn't just talk about change but that he is committed to fighting to bring it about. "Do you want someone who has the right ideas and philosophy?" asked Edwards. "Or do you want some who has the right ideas, philosophy and fight?"

That, in a nutshell, is Edwards's argument here ... and going forward. (Edwards repeated to the crowd what he said earlier in television appearances, that he is "in this race through the convention and into the White House.")

Edwards clearly believes that if Clinton does not finish first on Tuesday in New Hampshire, her campaign is finished -- an assertion The Fix is far less sure about. But to follow Edwards's logic, with Clinton out of the race the choice will come down to two change candidates -- one who speaks about change and one who says he will fight hardest to bring it about.

We're skeptical of the efficacy of that argument in New Hampshire and beyond. Edwards and Obama seem to be fishing from the same pool of voters here. Clinton has the establishment of the party locked up and her organization is second to none. If you assume Clinton has roughly 30 to 35 percent support no matter what happens over the next two days, then Obama, Edwards (and, to a far lesser extent, Bill Richardson) are fighting over the remaining 65 to 70 percent of the vote share.

Under that thinking, the stronger Edwards gets, the weaker Obama gets -- fracturing the anti-Clinton vote and giving the New York senator the chance to score the very win she needs to resuscitate her campaign.

Edwards seems to be gambling on the idea that Iowa signaled a fundamental shift in the Democratic electorate away from the establishment -- as he and Obama split nearly 70 percent of the Iowa caucus vote (38 percent for Obama, 30 percent for Edwards). "The status quo is history in America, right," he exhorted the crowd to a huge round of applause.

But New Hampshire is not Iowa. The party establishment remains powerful here, and Clinton's polling numbers have always been stronger in the Granite State than in Iowa.

Regardless of the result Tuesday night, Edwards is proving day by day in New Hampshire that despite not winning Iowa, he remains a force to be reckoned with in this campaign.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 6, 2008; 3:45 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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