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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Politics: Dems Bones -- What Does Edwards Want?

"Eeny-meenie mine-e moe..."

Last night's Presidential debate among the Democrats (minus a very peeved Dennis Kucinich) was the nastiest yet -- the gloves are off. Amidst all the wrestling holds, rope-a-dopes, and tag-team action, what was really going on?

Obama knows he is up in South Carolina, he'll probably win there. He is trying to defend his record which is under withering assault from both Hillary and Bill Clinton. He did a pretty good job defending himself to someone who is versed in politics but as we'll see in the clip, the more he has to explain the more it seems like there is something that needs to be explained. When he gets into a somewhat convoluted explanation of why he voted "present" so many times as an Illinois state legislator, it lowers him down from the perch of being a "different" kind of candidate and exposes him as a politician, not that there is anything wrong with that. The Clintons know this and are happy to lead him into this sort of defense of his record. Obama wants to use the momentum of a win in South Carolina to pick up some states on February 5th and hold Clinton's margins down in the states he can't win. Last night didn't hurt him but I don't know that seeing him on the attack and defending his own record so often helped him either.

Clinton knows South Carolina is gone at this point, though if she could get within 5 points or so of Obama she'll call it a victory. She's laying the landmines for February 5th. This was an Obama-friendly audience but her job was to spread doubt about Obama's record and his ability to defend it. Her sharpness cuts both ways -- though the crowd seemed to feel for Obama when he was getting hit by that Clinton uppercut ("slumlord", "not present", "Ronald Reagen") Democrats are eager to see that kind of verbal ju-jitsu employed on a Republican in the general election -- Hillary is counting on it. I think the performance helped in that she didn't come of as detached or icy -- far from it. She was fiery and ready to rumble -- the subtext being that this is what Dems should want in the fall.

Edwards has the most interesting role here. His own aides have suggest that he won't win a single primary at this point. Yet far from cruising, he had one of his best nights last night, pivoting away from his earlier habit of ganging up against Clinton to tag team with her against Obama. Why? May I suggest that Edwards is in this for delegates. He wants to hold down whoever the front runner is in the remaining primaries and collect enough delegates to be a king (-or queen) maker. Math is far from my forte but it may be possible for the top two candidates to come out of February's primaries close enough together in number of delegates for Edward's delegates to put the number two candidate over the top. This leads to the important question -- what does Edwards want? I think we can rule out the VP slot. He may want to see his anti-poverty agenda take center stage. Or there may be something else. Let me know if you think of ideas!

In the meantime here's a clip that illustrates the new dynamic. Hillary just gave Obama a good shot in the kidneys by pointing out a specific bill he voted "present" on -- and got boo-ed for her trouble. Obama's explaining, calmly and reasonably, the minutia of state legislative action which plays right into her game plan. Then Edwards jumps in and magnifies Hillary's message.

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