I’ve Got 527 Problems

John Edwards found himself ensnared in a catch-22 this weekend. Barack Obama, who has repeatedly targeted Edwards over the past week, began suggesting Edwards was a hypocrite for not controlling a 527 group that was readying a pro-Edwards TV ad in Iowa.

527 groups create a sticky situation for Edwards. The independent advocacy organizations are not officially allied with a campaign, but they bring to mind the shadowy world of special interest groups. Edwards, meanwhile, has wagered much of his candidacy on the assumption that America wants to rid Washington of lobbyists’ influence. When Obama starts using such strong rhetoric, nuances between 527s and special interest groups begin to disappear in voters’ eyes. In the caucus crunch, nobody has time to call a spade a spade. A shovel will do just fine.

By going after Edwards, Obama’s campaign manages to twist a negative into a positive. There haven’t been any 527 groups that have come out in support of Obama, which would usually mean that his official campaign would have to do more legwork on the ground and over the air. But—mainly thanks to Edwards—ethics have long been an issue in the Democratic race, which means there is room for Obama to take the high ground on the 527 issue. In the new battle for second-choice votes , Obama has discovered an opportunity to compete with Edwards for ethics-minded Iowans. He’s a victor of circumstance.

After Obama fired his salvo, Edwards released a statement asking the 527 group not to air the ad . Legally, candidates aren’t allowed to communicate with 527s, so Edwards’ request is tantamount to him asking for a favor. But the 527 in question is led by Edwards’ former campaign manager. So now, based on the twisted logic of 527s, it may look even more suspicious if the group doesn’t air the ad. Edwards may stand to benefit from politics-as-usual even as he continues to promise their demise.