After Nevada: John Edwards

Final Pre-Caucus Polling Average: Third Place, 18.0 percent (15.8 behind Obama, 19.8 behind Clinton)
Current National Polling Average: Third Place, 12.9 percent (20.2 behind Obama, 28.4 behind Clinton)

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, I wrotethat "Edwards will finish third tonight, and [it] will effectively end his bid for president." I still agree with that assessment. Now, I didn't mean that Edwards would drop out of the race; he's free to keep campaigning as long as he wants (or as long as he can afford it). But losses in Iowa (his all-in, must-win contest) and New Hampshire have made it difficult for him to pick up the momentum necessary to win in later states. These battles don't occur in a vacuum, irrespective of earlier match-ups, and they're not decided solely on issue stances and local concerns. It's like dominoes. Early victories demonstrate a candidate's viability, which helps sway voters in subsequent states. Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn't have such power to shape perceptions; Edwards has won nearly as many delegates (18) as Clinton (24) and Obama (25). But that's just how our stupid system works.

Edwards may not win the nomination, but there's another role potentially awaiting him (as the Politico's Ben Smith points out): convention kingmaker. Of course, the former North Carolina senator could score a surprise victory this afternoon on the strength of support among working-class Nevadans; the completely unreliable Silver State polling shows him trailing the frontrunners by much as 39 and as little as 3 percent. If he does, he'd come storming into his birth state of South Carolina on Jan. 29 with some serious momentum, and we might have ourselves a three-man--er, person--race. But anything less simply won't provide Edwards the boost he needs to overcome his deficit in the Palmetto State, which currently stands at about 30 percent. And a loss there, on friendly Southern terrain, would make it more difficult than ever to topple the massive maze of dominoes up for grabs one short week later on Super-Duper Tuesday.

That said, as long as Edwards continues to draw 15 percent support, he's a player. “The nomination isn't going to be determined by the win-loss record in a few early states," Edwards aide Jonathan Prince told the Politico. "It's going to go to the candidate that can compete widely and accumulate delegates over the long haul." When the dust settles on Feb. 6, Edwards probably won't have as many delegates as Obama or Clinton (dominoes again). But if by the convention neither of them have enough to secure the nomination--a Democrat needs a simple majority of a total 4,049--whatever bundle Edwards does have will be key. Experts estimate that it could number 300 delegates--more than enough to break a tie and earn him a prominent place in an Obama or Clinton administration.

Attorney General John Edwards, battling greedy corporations and corrupt lobbyists on behalf of middle-class Americans? It could happen.