Wolfson's Iowa Hypothetical

08/11/2008 12:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The punditry is crackling this morning over remarks by Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's campaign communications director, over what might have happened had John Edwards' been forced out of the presidential race last year: "I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee," Wolfson told ABC News.

Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen did the logical thing and checked relevant survey data from Iowa:

It is a pure hypothetical, of course, and the entire dynamics of the contest would have been different without Edwards. But the public data do not bolster the notion that Clinton would have won.

In the networks' Iowa entrance poll, 43 percent of those who went to a caucus to support Edwards said Obama was their second choice, far fewer, 24 percent said they would support Clinton if their top choice did not garner enough votes at that location. The remainder of Edwards' backers said they would be uncommitted under such a scenario, offered no second choice or said they preferred someone else.

Nor was Clinton the obvious second choice among Edwards supporters in Post-ABC pre-election Iowa caucus polls in July, November or December. In July, for their alternate pick, Iowans split 32 percent for Obama to 30 percent for Clinton. In November, Obama led 43 to 26 percent as backup pick, and he had a slight 37 to 30 percent edge in December.

Nate Silver echoes that last point point and notes that, looking at the trend lines in late January, "Barack Obama appeared to get the lion's share of Edwards supporters once Edwards dropped from the race."