Opinion: Edwards seeks undecideds with doughnuts


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With his Democratic rivals headed to Iowa, former Sen. John Edwards made his 23rd -- and last -- visit to New Hampshire before the Iowa caucuses this morning. He knocked on a handful of doors in Nashua -- offering iced Christmas cookies, doughnuts and coffee (carried by his staff).

Edwards, in jeans, hiking boots, a long black coat and no gloves, canvassed the neighborhood of one of his supporters, Nashua attorney William H. Barry III, along with The Times’ ubiquitous Maeve Reston. Barry assured her the campaign was only stopping by the homes of undecided voters.


Why waste time on the committed, right?

“He’s trying to close and when you close you’ve got to go with people who are undecided,’ Barry said. ‘It doesn’t make any sense to travel around with a canvas of supporters. It’s a waste of time for everybody. It may make the supporter feel important, but it’s not going to advance the candidate.”

At a cheerful yellow house on Wood Street, the former North Carolina senator ran into some straight talk from Jim Mail, a Republican who is definitely not undecided. He’s supporting Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The Mail family was playing on its new Nintendo Wii in pajamas when it received notice from, appropriately enough, an advance staff warning that Edwards might ...

... knock on their door. You don’t want your candidate to ring the doorbell and he’s standing there with no one answering, especially if the TV cameras are rolling.

With a crush of reporters packed into his front hallway, Mail informed Edwards that he was facing some steep hurdles in New Hampshire from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and the “presumptive frontrunner” New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, “who thinks she’s the frontrunner, anyway,” Mail said.

“Do you think she still thinks [she’s the frontrunner]?” Edwards asked, laughing.

Mail continued: “Obama has done just incredibly well from somebody who came from…”

“From nowhere,” Edwards interjected.

“From nowhere,” Mail continued. “I think that is going to be really your challenge is to differentiate yourself from those two.” But if the two candidates “eat each other alive,” then there might be an opening, Mail advised him.

“Only in New Hampshire,” Edwards laughed. “This guy could be a political consultant.”

Edwards did win over Mail’s wife, Carolyn, but not with coffee and doughnuts. She said she’s been leaning toward Edwards since summer.

In brief comments before heading north to Conway, Edwards said it was “crunch time.” “Now’s when it matters” he added.


“I think here [voters] are very undecided… I think it’s a wide open race here in New Hampshire,” Edwards said hopefully.

Sunday’s Boston Globe poll of New Hampshire voters suggested the gap might be wider than he thinks. Edwards had the support of 14%, Obama had the support of 30% of those polled and Clinton was close by at 28%. About 35% said they had “definitely decided” whom to vote for.

But turn that number around for Edwards and the others and that means fully 65% -- about two-thirds -- of New Hampshire’s Democrats profess to still be undecided, even this late after this long a campaign.

Trying to reach them -- without doughnuts -- Edwards aired a new ad in New Hampshire this morning promising to use the power of the presidency to “confront people who exploit their power for personal advantage.”

-- Andrew Malcolm