Opinion: Iowa expert: An early Edwards exit would have aided Obama, not Clinton


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A new -- and persuasive -- ‘what if’ scenario has been offered for how the Democratic presidential race would have played out if John Edwards’ extramarital affair had been revealed before the voting began, rather than long after it was over.

And this latest view differs dramatically from the lament offered Monday by ex-Hillary Clinton aide Howard Wolfson (below).

Wolfson, in yet another sign that some Clinton acolytes are having difficulty letting go of the past, caused a stir by telling ABC News that his boss would have captured the Democratic nod had Edwards been forced to the sidelines before the Iowa caucuses in early January.

‘I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee,’ the often pugnacious Wolfson said.


Au contraire, argues David Redlawsk -- head of the University of Iowa’s Hawkeye Poll and, in the walk-up to the caucuses, himself an Edwards backer.

An e-mail sent today by the school’s news service says that polling on caucus night supervised by Redlawsk indicated ‘that the absence of Edwards would have helped (Barack) Obama.’

The survey, which quizzed a randomly selected caucus participant in every Iowa precinct, asked the voters about their second-choice preferences. Among the 82% of Edwards supporters willing to back someone else, 51% named Obama as their next choice, 32% picked Clinton.

Wolfson’s claim ‘that two-thirds of Edwards supporters would have supported Clinton is just not supported in data collected directly from those who actually participated in the caucuses,’ Redlawsk says in the e-mail. ‘Had Edwards not been running, and if nothing else had changed, my data suggest that Obama would have ended up even further ahead of Clinton than he was.’

(Obama won the caucuses with 38% of the vote; Edwards edged Clinton for second place, 30% to 29%.)

Redlawsk, from his perspective as an Edwards volunteer, went on to say: ‘As the campaign progressed, few Edwards supporters I knew gave any indication that Clinton ...

... was their second choice. In my own caucus, which I chaired, when our Edwards group was initially declared non-viable, there was discussion of moving -- but to Obama, not Clinton. In the end, we gained viability by bringing over (Bill) Richardson and (Joe) Biden forces and by negotiating with the Obama group.’

The e-mail continued: ‘Redlawsk noted that by the time Iowa’s county conventions rolled around March 15, Edwards had dropped out. Many Edwards delegations remained a separate viable group, but where they did not, the move to Obama was massive. In the end, Obama picked up nearly half of Edwards supporters, while Clinton picked up almost none.


Of the four Iowans elected as Edwards national convention delegates, including Redlawsk, all publicly moved to Obama on June 3. None went to Clinton.’

It adds up to a pretty powerful rebuttal of Wolfson, making his comment sound more like sour grapes than informed speculation. Indeed, Wolfson seems to have put out of his mind the organizational problems that, as various post-mortems have detailed, plagued the Clinton campaign in Iowa.

Coincidentally, what may be the last word in what went wrong overall with Clinton’s candidacy was published today: Joshua Green’s much-awaited piece at, which draws on numerous internal memos. Here’s Green’s nut graph:

‘Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence -- on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to “do the job from Day One.” In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel. ‘What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.’

-- Don Frederick