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John Edwards's Bad Timing?

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards announced this morning on NBC's "Today Show" that he is planning a second run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

Democrat John Edwards
Edwards unveiled his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination from the Lower Ninth Ward, the part of New Orleans hit hardest last year by Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo)

But will anyone be paying attention to his well-scripted kick-off?

Edwards and his strategists decided several weeks ago that an announcement in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day -- typically one of the slowest news weeks of the year -- was his best chance to dominate national news coverage. If he waited until January, their thinking went, Edwards would likely be competing with similar announcements by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y) and Barack Obama (Ill.), both of which will draw massive media attention and would almost certainly have pushed the Edwards's decision to the side.

What Edwards could not have foreseen was former President Gerald Ford's death on Tuesday night and the subsequent wall-to-wall coverage. In the media generally, there is only room for one all-encompassing story at a time, and for the moment that story is the death of Ford and his surprisingly critical comments about President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, reported today by The Washington Post's own Bob Woodward.

The coverage of Ford's death is sure to eclipse that of Edwards's announcement on most media outlets and rob the former senator of his expected week in the sun. It's important to remember, however, that campaign announcements tend to be quickly forgotten. Can anyone remember how Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) announced his bid for president in 2004? How about George W. Bush's announcement in 2000?

And so, while Edwards would have preferred several days of coverage of his announcement from the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans (one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina), not having that coverage is hardly a political death sentence. (Watch the video.)

As The Fix has noted before, Edwards should rightly be considered in the top tier of Democratic candidates, along with Clinton and Obama. He has a number of built-in advantages leftover from his 2004 campaign, the most important of which is his popularity in Iowa. In the two polls taken of hypothetical 2008 Iowa caucus goers, Edwards has led a field that included Clinton, Obama and Kerry.

Beyond Iowa, the nominating calendar shapes up quite well for Edwards, with a caucus in Nevada where labor's role could be decisive and then, after the New Hampshire primary, a primary in South Carolina where he was born and where he won in 2004.

The biggest question mark for Edwards is whether he can raise the money necessary to compete with Clinton and Obama. During his 2004 campaign, Edwards had a HUGE first quarter of 2003, raising more than $7 million, which at that time was an eye-opening number. He followed that up with several decent quarters, but by the end of 2003 Edwards had raised just $16 million. In 2007, Clinton and/or Obama could well raise $16 million in a single three-month quarter. Edwards must show that he can stay within financial shouting distance of these two titans.

If Edwards can raise the money (and that remains a major IF), he should be one of the three candidates with a real shot at the nomination given his strength in the early voting states, his charisma and the fact that of the three he is the only one who has been a candidate for national office before. The next three months on the fundraising circuit should prove critical to determining the seriousness of Edwards's candidacy.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 28, 2006; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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