In Which John Edwards Decides the Democratic Nomination

It’s not going to happen. But here’s a hypothetical scenario that, however unlikely, could make John Edwards a kingmaker.

Saturday, Iowa Democrats will vote in the state’s county conventions . It’s a lot like the caucuses last January, only on a smaller scale. At 99 locations around the state, the 13,485 delegates selected at the caucuses will gather to choose delegates for the district and state conventions, which happen in April and June. Remember that in January, Edwards took 20 percent of the vote, which gave him an estimated 14 of the state’s 45 pledged delegates. (Iowa also has 13 superdelegates, bringing its delegate total to 57.) That means about 20 percent of the delegates showing up to tomorrow’s convention were selected as Edwards delegates.

These Edwards delegates have two options. (Well, three.) They can switch their allegiance to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, both of whom have been pushing hard for their support. Or, if they’re able to meet the 15 percent viability threshold, they can stick with Edwards. Presumably, many of them have switched allegiances since January, and others probably don’t know they’re allowed to vote for Edwards now that he’s out. But if enough of them back him, they could put his delegates—again, the equivalent of 14 national convention delegates—in play at the state convention on June 14.

And as the Democratic race drags on, 14 delegates is starting to look like a lot. The last primaries are scheduled for June 3. If the delegate count is somehow tied—a long shot, given Obama’s current lead, but still possible—then Edwards’ 14 delegates would play a major role. There’s a certain poetry to Iowa bookending the election like that, no? (Or, if you’re concerned about the democratic process, a certain perversity.)

Back to reality for a moment. The other reason delegates might stick with Edwards would be if they think his priorities, particularly poverty, haven’t been addressed sufficiently. It’s the same reason Edwards hasn’t endorsed yet: He’s waiting for one of the candidates to take up the cause with the same fervor he did. Until that happens, he has no incentive to pick sides. Likewise, the longer his delegates hold out, the more pressure they put on Clinton and Obama to take up Edwards’ mantle.