The Marginalization Cycle

At some point over the last week and a half, John Edwards’ campaign reached a tipping point. But it’s not the good kind.

Edwards always fought to stay in the headlines while Obama and Clinton caught most of the attention. He made headway before Iowa, where polls and guilt forced the media to recognize that the Democratic race was a three-way affair. But once he lost Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, it gave the media an excuse to ignore him. The bad news for Edwards: Tonight, even Clinton and Obama seem to think he’s marginal. And once your opponents ignore you, it’s nearly impossible to claw your way back into importance.

Even though CNN billed this as a debate about the issues it’s quickly become a debate about politics–process-based politics.And right now, all the process-based stories are about Clinton andObama, which means Edwards is fazed out of this debate. All he can hopeto do is stay above the fray, and hope that voters will warm to hisprincipled stand against mudslinging (and forget that he was thecandidate who Clinton originally said was doing the mudslinging ).

Obama, while engaging in yet another fight with Clinton over his votingrecord (or lack thereof) in the Illinois state senate, started hisanswer by paying tribute to his ignored colleague. “I feel bad forJohn,” he said before launching into another rebuttal of Clinton’sclaims. Edwards has chimed in here and there, but not in a way that will get replayed on TV and YouTube leading up to the primary, which is where these debates have the most impact. The marginalization whirlpool grabbed him, and there’s no way for him to swim his way out.