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Edwards: I'm In It To Win It

In the wake of his distant third-place finish in last week's New Hampshire primary, many in the political world expected former senator John Edwards (N.C.) to disappear -- ceding the race to Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).

Wrong.

In a new strategy memo obtained by The Fix, Edwards makes clear that he is in the race through at least Feb. 5 when 24 states are set to vote.

"Ultimately we expect the race to narrow to one of the celebrity candidates and us," says the memo. "And. when that happens, we are confident that the remaining contests will break in our direction as voters are finally offered a choice the national media has ignored all year -- the most progressive, most electable candidate in the race, John Edwards."

Why the optimism? According to the memo, the main reason is that both Clinton and Obama are "deeply flawed." Clinton is "plagued by questions over electability and continues to defend the status quo in Washington" while Obama's loss in New Hampshire revealed that "voters want a fighter."

As for Edwards's own efforts, the memo notes that the former North Carolina senator has 75 field staff in Nevada -- many of whom were in Iowa or New Hampshire on his behalf -- and another 60 in South Carolina. The memo also points out that Edwards was the first candidate on the air in South Carolina and that he won the state convincingly in 2004.

Unfortunately, polling in each state does not seem to bear out the optimism espoused by Edwards's memo. Although very few polls have been conducted in Nevada, the average result shows Edwards lagging far behind Clinton and Obama. (Just as we were about to hit the "publish" button, a new Research 2000 poll came out of Nevada that showed Obama leading with 32 percent to 30 percent for Clinton and 27 percent for Edwards.) Far more surveys have been done in South Carolina but the story is the same: Obama and Clinton far out front and Edwards running a distant third.

Looking ahead to Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, Edwards appears to be depending heavily on his support from state and local chapters of the Service Employees International Union as well as a spate of free media to propel his candidacy.

The 12 state SEIU affiliates that are backing Edwards are planning to spend $1.5 million on "communication and voter turnout" targeting the 750,000 members who live in the two-dozen states that will vote in early February, according to the memo

And, in a ploy to attract media attention, Edwards is planning a two-day, five state fly-around on Jan. 17 to a series of Feb. 5 states. Just two days before Nevada caucuses, Edwards will begin his "America Rising, Coast to Coast" tour in Los Angeles and then jet to Oklahoma City where he will spend the night. (He came within a whisker of winning the Oklahoma primary in 2004.) The next morning he will be in St. Louis, then Atlanta and finally Greenville, South Carolina.

The major problem with Edwards' Feb. 5 theory is money. Edwards was the only one of the Big 3 to accept public financing for the primaries. That decision drastically limits his ability to match Clinton and Obama in some of the large Feb. 5 states like California, Georgia, Illinois and New York. Adding to that problem is the fact that it will become increasingly difficult for Edwards to raise additional cash with many observers seeing the Democratic race as a two-person affair between Clinton and Obama. (It's worth noting that each of the first two Republican races were won by the candidate who spent less money. But with so many states on the ballot on Feb. 5, it's hard to see a repeat of that scenario.)

Judging from this memo, Edwards clearly believes he still has a role to play in this nomination fight. Judging from the unpredictability of the process so far, we are loath to rule out any candidate. But, judging from most of the empirical evidence available to us, it's hard to see how Edwards can win the nomination given the financial and organizational challenges before him. It's far easier to see how he impacts the eventual choice of a nominee, however, as the Post's Dan Balz brilliantly outlined in a piece over the weekend.

For the moment, Edwards is showing no signs of reneging on his promise to stay in the race "through the convention." In a year that has already shown anything is possible, might his perseverance eventually pay off?

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 14, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: The Race Within the Republican Race

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