03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Could Edwards Beat McCain? The Polls Won't Tell Us

Yesterday's Zogby poll has Edwards within Iowa-like striking distance of Hillary for second place in today's South Carolina primary. "The real movement here is by John Edwards, who is the only one who continues to gain ground in our three-day tracking poll," writes John Zogby, attributing most of the gains to previously undecided African American voters.

White dude rising? We'll soon find out. But the mainstream media, long determined to ignoreEdwards and keep this a feisty, feuding two-person race , is not letting him show his stuff where it currently counts--against McCain.

Thursday night, Tim Russert was oohing over how close a McCain-Obama or McCain-Hillary race would be: the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal head-to-head match-up poll shows McCain beating Hillary by two points and tying with Obama; Obama and Hillary each clobbered Romney, Giuliani, and Huckabee. When I saw that Edwards wasn't part of the six-pol poll, my jaded jaw almost dropped.

Though I shouldn't have been surprised. CNN also disappeared the former North Carolina senator from its most recent (mid-January) head-to-head poll--even though Edwards was the only Dem to beat McCain in its previous (mid-December) match-up. At the time, CNN polling director Keating Holland wrote, "Edwards is the only Democrat who beats all four Republicans, and McCain is the only Republican who beats any of the three Democrats. Some might argue this shows that they are the most electable candidates in their respective parties."

Why wouldn't CNN include its own previous chart-topper? Don't know. CNN wouldn't return my calls. Granted, a lot has changed in the last month, and other polls have also bumped Edwards from their January match-ups. Granted, too, Edwards is doing poorly in national polls. But so far, Edwards (unlike the shamefully treated Paul and Kucinich) is still deemed debate-worthy. Shouldn't Democrats as well as Republicans have access to information on how all their candidates stand in hypothetical general election contests?

Eviction from "electability" polls is bad enough, but CNN's Bill Schneider and even the esteemed have called Edwards "misleading" for citing, at the CNN debate last Saturday, his winning performance in the December CNN poll. "It's literally true [that Edwards was the one Democrat who beat McCain in the last CNN poll that included him], but still misleading," Factcheck writes, because, "there is a MORE recent CNN poll, one that shows either Clinton or Obama beating McCain and doesn't include Edwards."

Talk about Chinese finger puzzles, self-fulfilling prophesies, chicken and eggs.

No matter. MSM has moved on. Edwards's new designation is "kingmaker." On Friday, the Wall Street Journal, NBC's polling partner, tsked-tsked that "Mr. Edwards has all but dropped from sight. Generally ignored by the national press and with a campaign bankroll a fraction the size of his rivals," the best Edwards can hope for is to swing his accumulated delegates toward Obama's or Hillary's nomination.

That's no doubt true. By February 6, Democrats are likely to be stuck with the two weakest candidates. As Marc Cooper wrote here, once Hillary locks up the nomination, the rumors about Bill will come fully unzipped, diminishing her chances in November. Meanwhile, Obama's numbers among whites are dropping, largely because of Billary's attacks, whether you consider them to be coded racist appeals or merely color-blind Rove-ian hit jobs.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that by cutting off the race's possibly strongest Democrat--first from media coverage and now from polls--the corporate media could be misleading us toward another Republican administration.