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Don’t rule out Edwards as Democratic nominee in ’08

by DG Martin

Why do North Carolina Democrats have so much at stake in the 2008 presidential nominating contest?

The easy answer is, of course, that one of their own could be the nominee. If their former senator, John Edwards, wins the nomination, it could give the party and its supporters a burst of energy that could translate into resources to strengthen its 2008 election efforts in other races.

Even more important, perhaps, are the consequences they fear from the possible nomination of Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner in the race for the nomination. Respected political observer John Davis, the head of NCFREE, recently told me that Clinton’s high negatives in North Carolina would make her candidacy a boon for the Republicans. He believes that Clinton’s presence at the head of the Democratic ticket would draw such a strong Republican turnout to vote against her that it would lead to a complete Republican takeover of the legislature and the governor’s mansion.

It would be like the 1972 election when George McGovern led the Democratic ticket and North Carolinians elected a Republican governor (Jim Holshouser) and senator (Jesse Helms) – thus ending the Democrats total domination of state government in the 20th Century.

So what are the chances for Edwards, for Clinton and for other possible candidates?

Earlier this year, not trusting the polls to give reliable guidance at an early stage of the campaign, I checked in with the betting odds as published on Intrade.com.

Back in February, when I last checked, the odds were stacked in favor of Clinton. To buy a contract that would pay $100 should Edwards win the nomination, the cost would be only $6. But a similar contract for Clinton would have cost $43. A big problem for Edwards, as far as the bettors were concerned, was Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, whose candidacy threatened Edwards’ position as the foremost Southern candidate and the leading alternative to Clinton. A contract for Warner would have cost $24.

Things have changed. Warner has dropped out and Barack Obama, who was not viewed as a serious possibility, has moved into the spotlight.

What do the people who are willing to put their money on the line say about the odds today?

According to the contracts at Intrade, Clinton is even stronger. A $100 contract to be paid if she were the nominee would cost $55; Obama’s would cost about $20; Edwards. $10; Gore, $8; and Evan Bayh, $3. Others, including Kerry, Biden and Richardson, would cost less than $2.

The moneymen still do not give Edwards much of a chance.

So should North Carolina Democrats start shaking in their boots – and preparing for a time of exile from state government after 2008?

Some national political observers who closely follow these things refuse to count Edwards out of the race.

One of them, while conceding that Clinton is the leading candidate by far and that Obama has shown great appeal, points out that Edwards’ qualities as a candidate and his specific strength in key states make him a viable alternative to Clinton.

For instance, Chris Cillizza, a commentator for Washingtonpost.com, rates Edwards as a leading Democratic candidate, second only to Clinton, and ahead of Obama. He summarizes his reasons as follows: “The Obama boomlet seems to have pushed Edwards to the side – wrongly in our mind. Remember that Edwards is the best-known candidate in the field aside from Clinton and remains extremely popular in Iowa, the state that is currently scheduled to kick off the 2008 nomination fight. Edwards has skillfully courted the labor community over the past two years and retains a likeability and a charisma that moves ordinary voters.”

Certainly Edwards faces tough challenges in maintaining his position as the “leading alternative.” Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s recent entry threatens all of Edwards’ plans to win the early caucuses in that state. Obama’s candidacy could threaten Edwards’ expected victory in South Carolina, where about 50 percent of the Democratic primary voters are black.

Nevertheless, Edwards has demonstrated through focused hard work that he has the rare kind of staying power that a smart gambling person should never bet against.

DG Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina “Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 5 p.m.

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