Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Many More Victories Can John Edwards Survive?

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 462

I sat in on a conference call hosted by the John Edwards campaign yesterday. The purpose of the call was to trumpet Edwards' winning the endorsement of the Iowa chapter of the SEIU, comprised of about 2,000 members statewide. Among the participants were national campaign manager and former congressman David Bonior, communications director Chris Kofinis, Iowa state director Jennifer O'Malley-Dillon, and other senior staff.

After detailed expository remarks about the importance of gaining the endorsement of the SEIU's Iowa chapter, and hinting at additional endorsements to follow later in the day (indeed, nine more SEIU state chapters followed the Iowa chapter's lead in endorsing Edwards before the day was out), the Edwards staff threw the call open to Q&A. The most pointed question, asked in slightly different forms by several members of the media, was how much effect the Iowa endorsement had in assuaging the campaign's disappointment at not winning the endorsement of the SEIU national council. David Bonior in particular was quick to try to deflect that question away from the Edwards campaign, and towards the Clinton and Obama campaigns, stressing how hard the others tried to first win the national SEIU endorsement, and then tried to block the Edwards campaign from gaining the Iowa endorsement. Without putting it in so many words, Bonior went so far as to assert that not winning the SEIU national endorsement was in fact a victory for the Edwards campaign, since no other campaign won it, either.

No one with even a vague understanding of the Iowa caucuses, or Democratic politics in general, would discount the importance of union support. Indeed, the endorsement of The International Association of Fire Fighters is probably the decisive factor allowing Chris Dodd to stay in the race until caucus night. And as Bonior and the other Edwards staffers pointed out during yesterday's conference call, political organizers dispatched by unions are among the best in the business, and can provide a significant boost to a candidate's ground game. And the nine other SEIU state chapters joining the Iowa chapter in endorsing John Edwards yesterday have a combined membership of some 930,000, a big number in anybody's book.

So, yes, all of those things are true. And still none of them can erase the central and overriding fact that John Edwards' not winning the SEIU national endorsement is, quite simply, not winning. It is losing. There is no victory in getting 10 state SEIU chapters to support you when you have spent more than three years working to win the combined support of all 50 state chapters in the form of a national endorsement; far from it. It is a defeat of the first magnitude.

Similarly, Edwards' announcement late last month that he is opting in to public financing of his campaign, and thereby accepting the spending limits that are a condition of receiving federal matching dollars, was not, as he told CNN, "taking a stand, a principled stand, and I believe in public financing." This belief would seem to have come to Edwards late in a year when he has been working as hard as anyone to raise campaign cash, and just happened to precede by a few days definitive confirmation that his fundraising numbers have dropped alarmingly from earlier quarters. A victory for principle, or a triumph of spin?

So it is that the Iowa SEIU "victory" extends John Edwards' summer slump into the autumn, and, as much as anything, serves to highlight the extent to which the Edwards campaign continues to fall short of achieving every single one of its major goals. One has to wonder how many more such victories his campaign can survive.

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