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Former Clinton pollster looks back and asks ‘what if’
The release of Elizabeth Edwards’ memoir next month has begun another round of “what ifs” from former advisors to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In the book, Edwards says her husband, John, admitted just days before announcing his run for president in 2006 to his now widely publicized extramarital affair. According to the New York Daily News, she writes that she then asked her husband not to run for president in the 2008 campaign, to protect their family from public scrutiny.
Edwards eventually finished second in the Iowa Caucuses to Barack Obama before dropping out and endorsing him. Clinton finished third and was dealt what many consider a fatal blow to her presidential aspirations. Now, former Clinton pollster Mark Penn tells ABC News that it would have been a very different race if Edwards hadn’t run.
“Most likely it would have been a two-way race and would have released a lot of voters who focused on demographics . . . voters who would later vote for Hillary Clinton.”
This isn’t the first round of former Clintonites blaming their loss, at least partially, on Edwards. When news of the affair first broke last August, former Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson said if Edwards had been forced from the race earlier his candidate “would have won Iowa” and been the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.
But polling data from the night of the Caucuses does tend to contradict Penn and Wolfson’s points.
In an interview with former Iowa Independent writer John Deeth, University of Iowa political science professor David Redlawsk said a Caucus night poll showed 82 percent of Edwards supporters said they would support another candidate and 18 percent would not.
“When we asked which candidate they would then support, 32 percent said Clinton and 51 percent said Obama,” he said. “Had this actually happened statewide, Obama would have been even further ahead of Clinton.”
Now these were voters who spent the campaign listening to all three before deciding on who to support, so their opinions could have been much different if Edwards were never involved in the race from the beginning. But as Deeth pointed out back in August, the Clinton campaign’s focus on experience and being “ready to go on day one” was in stark contrast to the campaigns of Edwards and Obama, where change from the status quo was the rallying cry.
The Clinton that emerged later in the 2008 campaign that garnered support from mostly older and working class voters might have done better in Iowa, but that campaign message seemed to evolve because her defeat in Iowa and several early states, so it didn’t do her much good in the Hawkeye State.
In the end, it’s impossible to know what might have been.