Would Clinton Have Won Without Edwards?

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 12:47


Howard Wolfson thinks so:

If reporters had nabbed former presidential candidate John Edwards lying about his extramarital affair, Hillary Clinton would have captured the Democratic presidential nomination, her former communications director said.

"I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee," Howard Wolfson told ABCNews.com in an interview released Monday, because internal campaign polling showed "our voters and Edwards voters were the same people. They were older, pro-union. Not all, but maybe two-thirds of them would have been for us and we would have barely beaten Obama."

I used to argue that Obama benefited from having Edwards in the campaign. However, the evidence, as I discuss in the extended entry, not only goes against Howard Wolfson here, but also proved me wrong.

More in the extended entry.  

Chris Bowers :: Would Clinton Have Won Without Edwards?
Obama caught Clinton nationally after a January swing of African-Americans, netroots activists (see also here) and, apparently, Edwards supporters.


Even looking just at Iowa, Nate Silver shows that Edwards probably hurt Obama more:

As such, Iowa pollsters did a lot of work in trying to determine voters' second choices. And in virtually every survey, Clinton did rather poorly as a second choice: an average of several surveys in December showed that she was the second choice of about 20 percent of voters, as compared with 25 percent for Obama and Edwards (an even later version I have sitting on my hard drive showed the second-choice breakdown as Edwards 30, Obama 28.5, Clinton 23.5)

So the odds are that, if John Edwards had dropped out on the morning before the Iowa caucus, Obama would have won by more points rather than fewer.

Looking at contests that took place after Iowa, it is also difficult to see how Edwards leaving would have made any difference. Clinton won New Hampshire, so it is hard to argue that Edwards hurt her there. In Nevada, Clinton had a 10% lead in the entrance poll (48%-38%), but only a 6% in the final state delegate total. Also, Edwards lost about 4-5% from the entrance poll to the final result. Thus, it would seem that Obama gained most of the Edwards voters who were forced to make a second choice. Had Edwards not been in the race, then Obama would probably have come even closer in the state delegate count in Nevada, and also might have won the national delegate count by even more.

In South Carolina, Obama won a majority of the vote even with Edwards in the campaign, so that is a moot point. Looking at the exit polls, Obama performed equal to Clinton among white men, where Edwards dominated. Also, Clinton outperformed Obama about 2-1 among white women. Without Edwards in South Carolina, Obama would have won by something like 62%-37%, instead of 55%-27%. They both look pretty bad on paper.

After that, Edwards dropped out, and most of his supporters seemed to flow to Obama, at least temporarily. The probable explanation is that Clinton did not have the same stranglehold on older, working-class white voters in late January that she managed to acquire later in the campaign. Also, there were clearly a lot of Edwards supporters in the netroots, and so the demographics of his voters may not have been as seemingly favorable to Clinton as they appear to be on the surface.

The bigger question, I think, is how the course of the campaign would have changed without Edwards in the campaign. For one thing, it would have been a lot more difficult to push Obama or Clinton to the left on a variety of topics. Edwards kept staking out a rhetorically left-wing position to which Obama and Clinton were often forced to capitulate (for example, voting against funding for Iraq back in May of 2007). Second, Obama probably would have received the endorsement of netroots organizations like MoveOn.org and Daily Kos earlier in the campaign. This would have helped him in some ways, but in other ways it would have painted a giant DFH sign on his back for The Village, who might have simply seen him as the Howard Dean of 2008. Third, it would have been one less voice attacking Clinton on her ties to the establishment, which undoubtedly hurt her.

On net, it is difficult to say who would have gained more if Edwards had not been in the campaign. In fact, without Edwards, it is even possible that a candidate from the second tier might have risen upward. What I will say is that I am glad Edwards was in the campaign, because on the whole, I think his presence was a net rhetorical benefit for progressivism.  


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I still wonder (0.00 / 0)
if Obama would have won the nomination if Edwards didn't drop out before Super Tuesday. I could see a state like Missouri, where Obama won a razor thin margin, going to Clinton if Obama-Edwards voters were split. The same goes for a few other states.

Also, Obama's caucus victories might not have been so dominant, since Iowa proved that Edwards could turn out activists.  Without those caucus blowouts, Clinton's dominance in big states like CA, NY, etc. might have kept her at the top. Sort of like how Mike Huckabee kept Romney from staying up there with McCain.


Had the trend in South Carolina held (4.00 / 1)
Edwards would have taken white votes away from Clinton.  In several southern states I think this would have put her below the 15% threshold required to get delegates, and I think it would have helped Obama in places like Missouri.  It MIGHT have hurt Obama in some of the caucus states.    

Overall the primary effect though would have been to make it impossible for anyone to win a majority of pledged delegates.  


[ Parent ]
Except Edwards was already broke. (4.00 / 1)
They were already talking about doing a Southwest campaign -- not the region, mind you, but relying on the airline to get Edwards and a single aide from place to place, and doing events as close to airports as possible. The cap b/c of public financing crippled him.

I do think Chris says a lot of accurate things on the "course of the campaign without Edwards" paragraph, but I wonder if Dodd or Biden might have filled that role in his absence, going more blunt with their attacks.  


[ Parent ]
The nomination (4.00 / 1)
really turned on Iowa - and Clinton would have done worse there had Edwards not been in the race.  

The only place where it really might have mattered was in South Carolina, but then only at the margins.  

Ultimately a race without Edwards would have had no economic populist would have meant no economic populist would have been in the top three - which makes me think someone else might have gotten in the race OR one of the other candidates would have gained traction.  


Iowa is overrated (0.00 / 0)
How did the race turn on Iowa when the two final candidates went all the way to South Dakota and Obama won because he smartly ran a campaign based on accumulating delegates anywhere and everywhere? The race more turned on those 11(?) contests he won big after Super Tuesday and before Ohio and Texas.

[ Parent ]
Wolfson is using the Michigan argument.... (4.00 / 6)
..which is, basically, Hillary would have won if nobody was running against her.

Ha ha (4.00 / 1)
Yeah, she definitely would have won if no one had run against her. But then, anyone could have won if no one had run against them.

Oh, except Rudy Giuliani. He still would have lost if he had been the only GOP candidate. His campaign was that bad.


[ Parent ]
Did Edwards entrance into the race .. (0.00 / 0)
preclude anyone else from jumping in? .. did Obama's getting into the race preclude someone like Feingold from running?  we'll never know .. but I'll always wonder what Obama had as a plan to defeat Hillary in those early days .. after all .. metaphorically speaking .. Clinton was the 800 lb. gorilla in the room .. she was/is a well known name .. so Obama and Co. must have devised a strategy early on .. on how they were going to overcome that .. it would be interesting to know

Their plan (4.00 / 2)
all along was simple: win Iowa, after that compete everywhere.  

[ Parent ]
another lesson in missing the point (4.00 / 5)
Clinton aide: If affair pushed Edwards out, she would have won

Sane people: If Hillary hadn't voted for the war, she would have won


Ultimately (4.00 / 2)
this question is simply not answerable.  You can't assume that other factors (like candidate strategy) would have stayed the same with Edwards out of the race, so while Wolfson's statement is a little ridiculous, it is not really more so than a confident prediction in the opposite direction.

The only correct answers are "Who knows?" and "Who cares?"

On the latter, I really wonder wtf Howard Wolfson is thinking.  How does it help the democratic nominee at this point to say that Clinton would have won if Edwards had been out of the race (with the underlying implication that she would have won if the MSM had done their job)?

John McCain: Health insurance for low income children represents an "unfunded liability."


Entertainment (0.00 / 0)
The penchant of some Democratic Party members to hypothetically re-fight old elections is entertaining, if not an effective strategy to win the current election.

Such a scenario has its potential dramatic moments, some filled with putative irony. What if the Clinton campaign had dredged this information up during the primary? Inquiring minds want to know, you know? It was out there and they did oppositional research, no?  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
Rose colored fantasy... (0.00 / 0)
It isn't just "re-fighting an old election" - it is refighting a fictional possibility of a magical scenario that could have possible unfolded given this one change...trigging this specific set of other changes that of course lead to the outcome that I wanted.

People can speculate all they want, as someone who was on the ground in Iowa for nearly a year fighting for my candidate, sure this Edwards stink bomb bothers me immensely and I would love to go back in time and try the thing over again with him not in the race...but I can't say definitively the final outcome of the primary would have been different, only that the Iowa campaign itself would have been unpredictably different.

My armchair analysis is that had JRE not been in the race, there would have been more oxygen for Dodd, Richardson and/or Biden - but without actually having the campaign under those conditions, no one can possibly know and certainly Howard Wolfson and everyone else should shut their mouths about what could have been and focus on two things, real solutions to America's problems and winning in November.


[ Parent ]
Obama's strategy would have been different (4.00 / 1)
Unless you (the impersonal 'you') also speculate on what Obama's reactive strategy would have been and the effectiveness of that, you're not saying anything.

Obama might have adjusted successfully.  He might not have. We'll never know.



I agree with bluesteel (4.00 / 1)
I agree with bluesteel about the war vote, and with Chris that Clinton would not have benefitted in Iowa--and certainly not by 2-1, as Wolfson ridiculously claims, and which she needed to catch Obama.
Remember that Edwards' spin after Iowa was that there were two "change" candidates, and that Clinton suffered greatly on the second-choice scenarios.
It's also hard to see how a major candidate dropping out because of an affair helps the Clintons...

Edwards supporters were definitely not Clinton (4.00 / 1)
supporters.  If Edwards hadn't of been in the race, I would have backed Obama because I was an anyone but Clinton voter.  

[ Parent ]
Fun with counterfactuals (4.00 / 1)
Wolfson's counterfactual has Edwards being caught and then "forced" to drop out.

As Ana Marie Cox notes, in such a context the salience of Bill/Monica would increase.

Similarly, were Edwards the current nominee and this came out now, would not the salience of McCain's adultery increase? Not like the McCain campaign would be in any position to attack on this one.

Hell, the Edwards family may have even figured (rationalized) that the GOP was in no position to go down the marital infidelity road. Don't think they did not calculate the fact that most of the GOP candidates were in no position to make adultery an issue.

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What difference that he's no candidate? (0.00 / 0)
"Similarly, were Edwards the current nominee and this came out now, would not the salience of McCain's adultery increase?"

Every single Democratic Party representative that speaks on this issue (excluding the principles, perhaps) should be making that connection every chance they get.

Clearly, one must consider opening a "Family Values" window on this whole election, no?


"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
You'd think ... (4.00 / 1)
hell .. a lot of us were saying during the primaries that the candidates should have made fun of the Republicans .. since Romney .. of all people .. was the only guy(until Huckabee surged) out of the top tier that had only been married once

[ Parent ]
yes and bring it up to date (4.00 / 1)
Not only was John McCain an adulterer, but he's still lying about it today. The official public record says McCain cheated on his wife for seven months before his divorce. The official public record says McCain got a marriage license to Cindy when he was still married to Carol.

And McCain still won't come clean about this adultery episode from his past. He's still covering it up today, and that means its relevant to his character today.

It's so obvious I can't believe Dems aren't hitting it every opportunity they get. I'm sure the McCain campaign has a whole defense lined up against this attack, starting with Carol McCain who is a faithful supporter.


[ Parent ]
Don't forget Vicki Iseman (sp?) (0.00 / 0)
There was some sort of hanky panky going on there whether it was sexual or campaign favors the was definitely smoke and it is much more recent that his scumbag treatment of Carol.

[ Parent ]
Wolfson is doing what he thinks he needs to. (0.00 / 0)
He is saying that if things had been the way they should have been, he would have won.  This is an ingenious way of deflecting the fact that he didn't win.

Classic denial. The facts prove you wrong?  Dream up another set of facts which SHOULD have been true and assert that those facts would have proven you right.  Sheer bushwa.


More pressing question: (0.00 / 0)
How can this be used to highlight McCain's maritial indiscretions?


"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


Edwards was not really a major factor in the primaries. (0.00 / 0)
Iowa was going to vote against Hillary because of the Iraq War and her support for NAFTA.

Where did most Edwards supporters go after he dropped out? (0.00 / 0)
I haven't seen any polls on this nor do I have any proof, but based on anecdotal evidence, the large majority of Edwards supporters, including his top donors, moved right over to the Obama camp after John dropped out.

Wolfson is wrong in his assumption that Hillary was the second choice of most Edwards supporters.

Obama would have taken Iowa with a bigger margin, had Edwards not been in the race, imo.

SC too. I spoke to many voters in SC, phonebanking, who had been Edwards supporters in 2004 but had moved to Obama.

Both Edwards and Obama were more representative of change compared to Hillary, during the primaries. Taking on the special interests, corporate lobbyists. That was key in voters' minds.  


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