There is no question Edwards has become Obama’s wingman, often defending Obama and attacking Hillary for him. A few cases to date:
1) When Clinton attacked Obama in the New Hampshire debate, Edwards was the one who shot back:
“The one thing I do not argue with (Obama) about is he believes deeply in change and I believe deeply in change. And anytime you’re fighting for that, I mean, I didn’t hear these kinds of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead. Now that she’s not, we hear them.”
2) When Clinton welled up in New Hampshire, Edwards was quick to point out that there’s no crying in the White House:
“I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business.”
3) When Clinton said LBJ was the instrument of change in civil rights, it was Edwards who said:
“This may come as a surprise to some of you, coming from another presidential candidate, me, but as someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel an enormous amount of pride when I see the success that Senator Barack Obama is having in this campaign. And some days, now I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say some days I wish he was having a little less success, but it gives me great pride to see the reception he has received. We have come a long way in the 54 years that I’ve been on this earth, but not far enough. We still have work to do. And the hopes that both Senator Obama and I have for this nation and this country that we love so much, they’re real hopes. I must say I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Reverend Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that. Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long and are living in a fairy tale.”
And there’s no question that in the short run, Edwards’ candidacy helps Obama in South Carolina. Look at today’s poll numbers where Obama leads the pack amongst black voters 56% to Clinton’s 25% to Edwards’ (ouch) 2% compared to white voters: Clinton 39%, Edwards 28% and Obama 20%. While Edwards professes to split the change vote with Obama, in reality he’s splitting the lower middle class white union vote with Clinton.
Still, there is method to Edwards’ strategy of constantly siding with Obama. When I asked him in New Hampshire the day of the primary he told me this: “People are looking for change and that’s clear. Senator Clinton doesn’t represent change and Senator Obama and I do, so we start at a good place. Secondly, the kind of change that I believe we need is to strengthen and grow the middle class. And vis-vis Senator Obama, I don’t think we’ve going to have meaningful change in this country unless we have a president that’s willing to fight the entrenched special interests. So, my view about it is, it’s very much a long campaign.”
If Edwards can survive a loss in South Carolina and moves on to the February 5th states he could start to split delegates with Obama as well as Clinton and serves to prolong the entire race as no one candidate reaches the magic 50% threshold. And while Obama and Hillary duke it out over the 800-pound gorilla states of New York and California, Edwards could draw delegates from both his rivals in states like Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Tennessee. So while he may not win any of those states outright, he could exit February 5th with a healthy number of delegates from placing strong thirds or seconds in most states. All of which is to say: if Edwards truly loved Obama he’d drop out after South Carolina – a move he’s not likely to do. On the other hand, a plethora of delegates could make him a king maker and he’s already chosen which king he’d make.