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Explaining Edwards

I don't know if John Edwards can win Iowa tonight; I guess I'm skeptical that he will. But we can one thing for sure: He hung around until the very end. That's not what the political pros expected. A few months ago the CW held that Edwards would fade, especially as his fundraising dried up and Hillary focused harder on Iowa. (This was the hope not just of Hillary and Obama but also of the second-tier candidates, especially Joe Biden.) I suspect this passage from today's NYT helps explain why Edwards is still in the thick of it:

Even though polls show that Iowa Democrats still consider the war in Iraq the top issue facing the country, the war is becoming a less defining issue among Democrats nationally, and it has moved to the back of the stage in the rush of campaign rallies, town hall meetings and speeches that are bringing the caucus competition to an end. Instead, candidates are being asked about, and are increasingly talking about, the mortgage crisis, rising gas costs, health care, immigration, the environment and taxes.

The shift suggests that economic anxiety may be at least matching national security as a factor driving the 2008 presidential contest as the voting begins.

It's true that Edwards has a "purer" anti-war position than Hillary or Obama. But he did vote for the thing, which always muddied his case. The economy is another story. I have to believe that, more you're worried about the economy and feel like the fat cats are shafting you, the more appealing Edwards's populist outrage gets. This ad captures that sentiment perfectly.

P.S. I used to think that diminished outrage over Iraq would be good for Hillary, whose 2002 war vote has been a major liability. But maybe she neutralized her vote so effectively over the past many months that a shift in public sentiment just didn't make a difference.

P.P.S. It's gone mostly unnoticed amid New Year's and the caucuses, but the 23 U.S. fatalities in Iraq last month was the second-lowest total since the invasion and the lowest since February 2004.    

--Michael Crowley