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More on the Edwards 2008 What-If

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As a follow-up to Monday's post on the "what-if" speculation about John Edward's 2008 campaign, I did a an online "Q&A" yesterday with NPR.org's Liz Halloran. While much of it reviews the ground covered on Monday, I did expand a bit on one point worth repeating:

Bottom line: What effect, if any, did Edwards have on the outcome of the Democratic primary process?

We should not overlook that John Edwards was an important part of the campaign dialogue throughout 2007 and early January 2008. He was the most aggressive in pressing the case against Clinton, especially — as one Edwards supporter reminded me yesterday — when she flubbed her answer regarding drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants in the Philadelphia debate in October 2007. Without Edwards in the race, the "dynamics" might have been different in ways we simply cannot deduce from poll numbers.

And while we are on the subject of what-if hypotheticals about last year's Iowa Caucuses, one question I thought more intriguing is what might have happened had Clinton and strategist Mark Penn had followed the advice of her deputy campaign manager, Mike Henry, and skipped the Iowa caucuses altogether. I had long assumed that had Clinton not contested Iowa, much of her support would have gone to Edwards, thus depriving Obama of his most important victory. An Edwards win in Iowa would have effectively ended the Obama campaign right there, and in a fight against Edwards, Clinton's firewall of support from African-American, a crucial base of support for President Clinton would likely have held.

Turns out, according to Des Moines Register pollster Ann Selzer, I assumed wrong: In May, the likely caucus goers that supported Clinton as their first choice split almost evenly when asked for their second choice, narrowly favoring Obama over Edwards (46% to 44%). In December just before the caucuses, Clinton's supporters again split, this time preferring Edwards over Obama (39% to 35%). So while an Edwards win in Iowa without Clinton in the race was plausible, it would have been far from automatic.

Also finally, one more anecdote on second choices: PPP's Tom Jensen yesterday reminded us of the second choices of Edwards supporters in North Carolina is an automated survey they conducted on February 8, 2008, about a week after Edwards left the race: 41% to Obama and 41% to Clinton.