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.
|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.