John Edwards: Kingmaker?

John Edwards gained in the polls on the eve of South Carolina's Democratic primary, but he remained far behind Barack Obama. A big loss in Edwards' native state, said Ariel Sabar in The Christian Science Monitor, would renew questions about "his reas

What happened

Polls released on the eve of South Carolina’s Democratic primary showed John Edwards, a native of the state, gaining in the polls. Edwards pulled close enough to threaten to take second place from Hillary Clinton, whom he publicly chided for not campaigning enough in the state, although he remained far behind Barack Obama. (The Columbia, S.C., State)

What the commentators said

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Edwards won South Carolina in 2004, said Ariel Sabar in The Christian Science Monitor. This time around his “favorite son pitch” is “no match for his rivals' celebrity, especially among black voters, who make up half the Democratic voters here.” A significant loss in the only state Edwards won four years ago would “renew questions about his staying power and his reasons for staying in the race.”

Edwards won’t go home, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post (free registration). Not when, in such a close race, he can “act as kingmaker at the convention” with just 10 percent of the delegates. And it’s too bad, because his campaign has been a shameful “spectacle” in which he transformed himself into a “raging populist” by renouncing every position he took in his single Senate term—from his vote for the Iraq war to his support of education reform. “It profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the whole world. But for 4 percent of the Nevada caucuses?”

Dismissing Edwards as a born-again "‘populist’ ignores the fact that he has touched a nerve,” said Eugene Robinson, also in the Post (free registration). It’s “disheartening” to see Edwards’ campaign stall—not for him, but for the “unskilled and unlucky” people “whose disappointment and disaffection he captures in his cadenced rhetoric about taking back the country from ‘special interests’ holding it for ransom.”

Edwards won’t win, said Thomas F. Schaller in Salon, but it’s true that if he hangs in there long enough, and collects enough votes, he just might play “kingmaker,” or “queenmaker,” at the Democratic convention. Regardless, he has already helped shape the debate by talking about the plight of the poor, and slowing “Clinton and Obama's rush to the center.” And the outcome of the 2008 Democratic primaries—“and quite possibly the general election”—may depend on whom Edwards’ supporters pick as their second choice.

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