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Does Edwards Prefer Obama?

I do this with great trepidation, but I think I'm going to have to disagree with Dan Balz, who, wondering if/when John Edwards will drop out, writes:

In a largely two-person race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it's clear where Edwards's sentiments lie. If he can't be the nominee, he strongly prefers Obama to Clinton.

If there were any doubt before, his performance in the Jan. 5 New Hampshire debate answered that question definitively. It was Edwards who leaped to Obama's defense when Clinton raised doubts about him -- aggressively challenging the New York senator as a creature of a frightened status quo.

"I didn't hear these kind of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead," he said. "Now that she's not, we hear them. And any time you speak out -- any time you speak out for change, this is what happens."

Well, first of all, if Edwards was trying to help Obama, he sure did a lousy job of it--since it was his challenge to Clinton that prompted her angry moment which, in hindsight, was probably as crucial to her New Hampshire comeback as her teary moment. But I'm not convinced Edwards was trying to help Obama.

After Obama's victory in Iowa, the only scenario in which Edwards could win the nomination, it seemed, was to have the Democratic race boil down to a contest between Obama and himself--two "change" candidates--and then Edwards could try to paint Obama as too nice to accomplish change. So teaming up with Obama to take on Hillary during the debate could have been as much about Edwards's self-interest as it was his feelings for the other candidates.

Why does this matter? Because if Edwards truly does prefer Obama, then the smart play for him would be to stick in the race through South Carolina, where, as Balz later points out, he'd likely take white votes away from Clinton. Then, after South Carolina, he'd drop out, lest he siphon away "change" voters from Obama on February 5. If Edwards does that, then I think it'll be clear that he truly does prefer Obama. 

P.S. I'm tempted to say this is a golden opportunity for Edwards to butter up Obama to pick him as his runningmate (similar to the one Richardson had with Hillary); but I can't imagine Edwards would want to be a veep candidate again.

--Jason Zengerle