John Edwards is in denial. Sure, a new poll shows he may have a chance at doing well in Nevada this Saturday, but that pesky viability threshold of 15 percent will likely get in his way. His poll numbers in South Carolina are stuck in the mid-teens, and even a win in Nevada is unlikely to propel him very far. Plus, Edwards’ spending is capped because he took public money to fund his campaign.
In the face of these daunting odds, is he quitting? Hell, no. He’s soldiering on so he can help the American middle class rise up . After New Hampshire, he even said that he’s in through the convention . Edwards’ denial is only the first step in his five stages of grief . Here’s what to expect as Edwards wills his candidacy on through his electoral grief.
- Denial -Today Edwards’ campaign had a conference call with reporters where staffers repeatedly said that two states (Iowa and New Hampshire) don’t decide an election. The only problem: For him, they do. When you spend four years shaking Iowans’ hands, it’s a slap in the face if they turn their backs when it counts most. Also, on the denial front: a leaked memo ( PDF ) that says “Clinton is too corporate to offer voters real change” and “Obama is too weak to stand up to Republicans.” Edwards blames the media and the “celebrity candidates’ ” wallets for his second- and third-place finishes. Estimated time span: Present - South Carolina’s primary, Jan. 26.
- Anger - Edwards has been campaigning with a fiery rage from the get-go, so his tone will only get harsher during this stage. Expect flailing attacks at Obama and Clinton in an attempt to weaken them in time for the Feb. 5 states. Because Edwards doesn’t have as much money as Obama and Clinton, he’ll have to make headlines by any means possible. In November, Edwards semi-famously said his attacks against Clinton were milquetoast, not mudslinging . This time, he may drag Clinton and Obama into the mud pit with him, critically injuring the party in the process. Estimated time span: Jan. 27 - Super, Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.
- Bargaining - Assuming Edwards comes up short on Feb. 5, he’ll try to stay relevant not by winning, but by negotiating. Because the Democrats award their delegates proportionately in each state, Edwards will certainly have some leverage that he can dangle in front of Obama and Clinton. Plus, an Edwards endorsement would mean a great deal if the nominee isn’t sorted out after Super Tuesday. Obama is the most likely target for a bargain, which would probably entail Obama beefing up his middle-class/anti-lobbyist message in exchange for immunity from Edwards’ scorn. Think of it as an implicit endorsement. Estimated time span: Feb. 5 - mid-March.
- Depression - With the nomination securely in somebody else’s hands, Edwards will probably fade from the political scene for a bit. He may not have officially dropped out of the race, but that doesn’t mean he’s in it, either. Symptoms include: decreased campaign schedule, monotonous stump speeches, and skipped primaries. Estimated time span: March - July.
- Acceptance - At some point, Edwards will have to face the music, and it won’t be played by Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt . There are only so many ways to crunch the delegate numbers and so many “Mill” ads you can run before you have to bow to defeat. This election, Edwards won’t be the VP, but maybe somebody will offer him a new Secretary of Change Cabinet position. Something tells me he’ll accept that.