With a narrow second-place finish in Iowa under his belt, John Edwards came to New Hampshire content with the likelihood of third place. After such a pitched battle for Iowa, one that Edwards had essentially been waging since 2004, the campaign took a deep breath, relaxed and settled in for a protracted race. The former North Carolina senator divided his time between trying to elbow a suddenly vulnerable Hillary Clinton out of the race and hitching his star to a rising Barack Obama and his message of change.
But as Clinton's numbers held fast into Tuesday night, and it became clear that she would win New Hampshire, the Edwards campaign began reveling in the defeat of what only a few hours before had seemed like an unstoppable Obama. "Tonight we saw the fatal flaw of Senator Obama--that if you don't fight for change, you can't win," said Edwards's campaign strategist Jonathan Prince.
In a brief speech Tuesday night, Edwards said again that he is in the race until the convention, while emphasizing how little of the electorate has voted despite all the hype of the last week. "Up until now, about half of 1 percent of Americans have voted. Ninety-nine percent plus have not voted. And those 99 percent deserve to have their voices heard because we have had too much in America of people's voices not being heard," said Edwards, who, while congratulating Obama and Clinton, insisted that "I intend to be the nominee of my party."
In the aftermath of Clinton's win, look for Edwards to turn more fire on Obama as he seeks to paint himself as the more viable anti-Clinton candidate. "Just because you hold up signs at your rally that say READY FOR CHANGE doesn't mean that you're a change candidate," said top strategist Joe Trippi.
In private, aides liken the Clinton win over Obama to her knocking out his left flank, giving Edwards an opening to encroach on Obama's left-of-center support. Even after getting just 17 percent, Edwards has a viable piece of the change vote, says Trippi. The Edwards team is optimistic about the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary, which he won in 2004--and hopeful that if Clinton and Obama go after one another, he'll be the clear beneficiary. (Of course, Obama partisans are more likely to view Edwards as a spoiler at this point--one whose continued presence in the race will only damage the Illinois senator's efforts to coalesce the anti-Hillary vote). "I tell you, this has more plot twists than a night at the Bates Motel," said Trippi. But is it as bloody? "Well, nobody's gonna die at the end." A telling comment from a campaign where success is measured by managing to stay alive.