Obviously Barack Obama and John Edwards are competing with each other, but the caucuses in Iowa, Nevada, and Washington State give the two campaigns a chance to also coordinate to maximize the delegates they gain. Edwards and Dennis Kucinich actually did this in 2004 in Iowa and it played a real role in Edwards's Iowa unexpected Iowa success. At this point he and Obama are competing with and even sniping at each other, but if they don't stop Hillary Clinton, she still has the inside track to the nomination. And for all that Obama and Edwards have differences, I think they're closer politically (and more progressive) than either are to Clinton, who voted for the Iraq War, supported the Kyl-Lieberman Iran vote that Jim Webb called "Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream," and feel no shame in raising as much money as she can from Washington lobbyists. (Plus the regressive Democratic Leadership Council still features Hillary as part of their core circle). Both Obama and Edwards would gain by doing this, and the 2004 precedent suggests it's perfectly legal.
How would it work? The same way it did in 2004. At least in Iowa it takes a 15% threshold in any given precinct to gain a delegate. So both candidates will inevitably have people left over in most precincts who don't quite get them to that threshold. But what if both publicly pledged (and sent out instructions) that wherever that situation occurred, they'd try to combine so whichever of the two had more unrepresented attendees after all the efforts to convince stray delegates would get the additional delegate. If they had equal numbers left unrepresented, they could combine and flip a coin. It may sound like it would have a minimal impact, but multiplied by precinct after precinct it could matter.
Some of this will happen anyway, but it's be a lot more likely if Obama and Edwards openly embrace it, saying explicitly that they're doing this because although each thinks they'd be the best nominee, they also think that the other represents change more than does Hillary Clinton, which is true. If they teamed up explicitly, it would probably gain some headlines, and done right (maybe with a joint press statement or even a joint press conference) would seem less like their piling on a front-runner than drawing a necessary political line. I think it could only help.
It is a calculated risk for both in helping one of their likely opponents, but the first priority seems still stopping Clinton's momentum. And this also sets the stage for Obama and Edwards and their supporters to keep on working together in other ways, like on the convention platform. Then they can go back to laying out their areas of disagreement.
Ideally, again, they'd do this at a national level, but even if they don't, those of us participating in the caucuses can do what we can to forward this approach. My personal sentiments? Whatever the outcome, I'd be delighted if one of the headlines read "Hillary Clinton finishes third."
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles