In the basement cafeteria of the
Here at ConVal High, events have moved from the tragic to the absurd. As Edwards works the crowd, the Coulter kid, who also clutches an article questioning the medical science Edwards relied on as a trial lawyer, tries to maneuver into position to confront him. At each turn, an alert Edwards aide repositions himself between quarry and prey. Finally the boy breaks through. Braces gleaming, he begins to pose his trial lawyer-bashing question. “I don’t have time for this,” Edwards says, and quickly spins away.
Yet now Edwards faces an even more unpleasant encounter. He relocates to a pre-designated corner of the room and does something his chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, almost never do: holds a press conference. In campaign speak, this is known as a “press availability,” or, in shorthand, “an avail.” By the day’s end, Edwards will have held an avail after each of his four public events. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can go a month without having four avails between them. And woe to the reporter who tosses the front-runners a question on the fly. One newspaperman who tried it while Hillary worked a rope line in
Similarly, I saw an Obama aide practically berate a foreign television crew that tried to ask him some basic questions after a town hall in eastern
But, unlike his rivals, the attention-starved Edwards needs to keep the press interested. For months, and with mixed results, his campaign has battled the media’s tendency to cast the campaign as a two-“man” race between Obama and Hillary. At a house party in Hampton, N.H., last month, Elizabeth Edwards cited with frustration a New York Times public editor column noting that the paper had run 47 articles about Clinton since Labor Day, and just 18 on Edwards.
Edwards’s aides argue this is deeply unfair. They point to several polls which show a near-dead heat in Iowa--including a new internal campaign poll which puts Edwards two points ahead of Obama among both “likely” and “very likely” caucus-goers. What's more, the new line coming from Edwards-land is that their man doesn’t actually have to win
Whatever its accuracy, that poll reflects the conventional wisdom among national reporters, which has left Edwards resorting to extreme measures to get some attention. Edwards’s press secretary, Eric Schultz, blast e-mails enough upbeat excerpts about his boss to shock a Viagra spammer. The Edwards campaign tries to make news with an endless rollout of micro-policies and gimmicks like this week’s “Main Street Express”
If Edwards doesn’t seem to relish his encounters with the press, it’s hard to blame him. Sometimes they seem like wastes of time, as when Edwards stood in the bitter cold and took a question from a shaggy-haired Swedish radio reporter who resembled a modern art dealer and wanted to know why
As a result, there hasn’t been a detectable change in the volume of Edwards coverage of late. Which leaves Edwards’s die-hard supporters feeling embittered. “I think he’s been getting short-shrifted on the media,” a white-haired Edwards volunteer named Bill Noelte told me at a Saturday morning event in his hometown of
MICHAEL CROWLEY is a senior editor at The New Republic.