Edwards' Crumbling Campaign is Bad News for Clinton

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Back in January when Barack Obama officially announced his presidential exploratory committee, I suggested it was "bad news for John Edwards, which in turn is good news for Hillary Clinton."

At the end of 2006, with Mark Warner out and former Vice President Al Gore on the sidelines, John Edwards posed the greatest threat to Sen. Clinton's hold on the Democratic nomination. Obama's formal entry into the race immediately split the substantial anti-Hillary vote, which worked to Clinton's advantage and John Edwards' detriment.

On the surface the Democratic race has remained rather static over the last three months — at least as far as the horserace numbers between Clinton and Obama. But not enough attention has been paid to Edwards' crumbling campaign and its consequences on the Democratic contest.

Back in mid-April Edwards peaked in the RCP Average at 17.8 percent, while Clinton held a 12.8 percent advantage over Obama, 35.8 percent to 23.0 percent. Today, the Clinton — Obama race is virtually unchanged, with the New York Senator holding a 12.4 percent edge, 36.0 percent to 23.6 percent. Edwards, on the other hand, has lost over 30 percent of his support and has seen his national numbers fall to 12.4 percent in the latest RCP Average. The most recent Washington Post and Los Angeles Times polls have his national numbers in single digits at 8 percent. In the InTrade prediction markets Edwards' odds to be the Democratic nominee have plunged from 25 percent at the beginning of the year to only 5 percent today.

So while the national horserace numbers between Clinton and Obama have remained unchanged during the last quarter, Edwards' implosion has strategically weakened Clinton's hold on the nomination. The Clinton campaign wants to neutralize Edwards and to limit the odds of him breaking out with an early win in Iowa. But they don't want to see Edwards' campaign totally implode and allow the anti-Hillary forces to rally behind an increasingly powerful Obama.

With the second quarter fundraising numbers due out over the next week and with the rumblings that the Obama campaign is poised to release a monster haul, the potential elimination of Edwards as a serious candidate, coupled with the Obama campaign's ability to not only compete with, but to beat, the vaunted Clinton machine, could be the catalyst that allows Obama to consolidate his position as the sole anti-Hillary candidate. He would then be in a very strong position to tighten those horserace numbers both nationally and in the key early states over the next quarter as we head into the fall.