CNN Breaking News

Former Sen. John Edwards is quitting the presidential race, CNN has learned.

UPDATE BY BRENDAN: Edwards "will not immediately endorse either candidate," according to the AP. Good lord, what’s the holdup? He needs to endorse Obama before Super Tuesday! Boyz 4 Change!! Boyz 4 Change!!

P.S. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but the timing of this announcement seems odd. That’s right — I question the timing!! :)

Why is Edwards doing this now? Surely he wasn’t depending on a strong showing in Florida’s delegate-less "beauty contest" to rejuvenate his candidacy? And if he based this decision on South Carolina, well, what took him so long? That primary was four days ago, which is a political eon. When he didn’t announce anything on Sunday or Monday, you had to think he was staying in the race through Super Tuesday. Instead he bows out now. Why?

Isn’t it possible that he’s already cut a deal with the Obama campaign? Yeah, I know, he "will not immediately endorse." But that could be an elaborate smokescreen to make it seem like they didn’t cut a deal. It all depends on what the definition of "immediately" is! (Right, Bill?) It seems entirely possible that Edwards and Obama have already agreed to terms (vice president, attorney general, whatever), but part of Johnny Boy’s end of the deal is that he must drop out today (to distract media attention from Hillary’s Florida "win," thus decreasing any momentum boost) but wait until, say, Friday to endorse Obama — thus maximizing the impact of the big "Boyz 4 Change" announcement (and decreasing Hillary’s window to recover from the blow) by placing it closer to Super Tuesday, while also spacing out the two developments (i.e., Edwards’s withdrawal and his endorsement of Obama) far enough apart to prevent people from suspecting a shady back-room deal (which doesn’t exactly fit the image the "politics of change").

Like I said, call me a conspiracy theorist! But it’s at least plausible, yes?

P.P.S. One thing’s for sure: Edwards’s departure makes tomorrow night’s Democratic debate a lot more interesting. (I even added it to my sidebar!) Finally, it’ll be Clinton vs. Obama one-on-one, mano-a-womano! Hillary against Barack for all the marbles! May the best senator win! 

But, now, hmm… Obama is generally better in stump speeches than he is in debates. He’s not terrible in debates, but they’re not his strength. I daresay they are Hillary’s strength, at least sometimes. What if Obama "loses" the debate? Hillary’s momentum coming out of a clear "win" could be killer, potentially dominating the news cycle for 24-48 hours…

…unless, of course, Obama has some sort of a shock-and-awe-inducing, momentum-stopping "firewall" up his sleeve… like, say, a Friday morning endorsement announcement by a certain former opponent? Just saying!

If Hillary wins the debate, Obama could stop her momentum cold with a Boyz 4 Change announcement. And if Obama wins the debate, he’d multiply his own momentum heading into the weekend. It’s a win-win!

UPDATE: Just when I thought CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux was throwing cold water on my endorsement speculation (reporting that Edwards "hasn’t any plans to endorse" — no modifiers like "immediate"), I read this from TPM:

An Edwards adviser confirms to me that John Edwards won’t be making any endorsement "for the moment."

However, this source refused to rule out the possibility of an endorsement before Feb. 5th, which is six days away.

The board is set, the pieces are moving…

There’s also this non-denial-denial from Obama yesterday.

If Edwards endorses Obama on Friday, it will more than make up for all of my previous incorrect predictions this election season.

P.P.P.S. On second thought, maybe Saturday would be better — unless Obama really does tank in that debate — because Saturday is the day before the Super Bowl. Nobody will be paying any attention to politics on Sunday! So Edwards endorses Obama, the media laps it up, then everyone stops paying attention so Hillary has no chance to respond. The next thing you know, it’s Super Tuesday Eve, and Obama’s an unstoppable freight train again.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Some more thoughts on Edwards’s departure…

Ed Morrissey thinks it helps Obama, even without an endorsement: "Edwards has until now split the Hillary opposition with Barack Obama.
His departure provides a single point of focus for those who resent the
Clinton influence within the party — a faction that has grown,
undoubtedly, after the nasty and mean-spirited campaigning of Bill
Clinton over the last month. Democratic pundits and politicians alike
have raised their voices against the Restoration, and now Obama
personifies the opportunity to prevent it."

Dana Goldstein, on the other hand, says that "somewhat counter-intuitively, Clinton may have an edge" in winning over Edwards voters. She mentions something I hadn’t heard before: "a Jan. 24 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg
News poll found that
nationally, Edwards voters prefer Clinton to Obama by a slight margin."
Goldstein speculates that Clinton "could have an edge among those who
are attracted to Edwards’ focus
on the economy," and adds that despite the major differences between
Edwards’s and Clinton’s economic policies, "most voters don’t have a grasp of the finer policy differences between
the Democratic candidates, and low-income voters — those who would be
most helped by Edwards’ populist policies — are especially loyal to
Clinton. In recent weeks, she has doubled down on that appeal, speaking
often about pocketbook issues such as the sub-prime mortgage crisis and
health-care costs."

The WSJ‘s Christopher Cooper echoes the "no immediate endorsement" CW, but then adds:

But if Edwards does endorse, he’s likely to go with Obama. The two
have remained close during an exceedingly bitter race and have
sometimes joined in a loose confederacy to attack Clinton, the
front-runner, for her continuing refusal to reject lobbyist
contributions and her deep Washington connections. Indeed, in an
interview with ABC’s Terry Moran broadcast Tuesday,
Obama said he had recently asked Edwards to endorse him, in a private
conversation. “There is no doubt that I would love John’s support, but
I also respect the fact that he is in this contest,” Obama said. The
interview aired before Edwards’s intentions became public. Obama called
Edwards a “formidable candidate.”

Puzzling out who benefits from Edwards’s departure from the race is
complex. In a pure political sense, his populist leanings and calls for
ethics reform appeal most to those who support Obama — and an Edwards
exit could help Obama in larger, more urban states such as California
–- the biggest prize on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5. Obama will probably also
pick up supporters who are determined to see anyone but the polarizing
Clinton win the nomination.

 

But the issue of race injects a complication into that scenario.
Obama is black, and as last Saturday’s contest in South Carolina
showed, a segement of the population, especially in the South, appears
determined to reject his candidacy on purely racial grounds. Edwards,
who drew about 15% support in that contest, only managed to capture
about 2% of the state’s African Americans, who are a majority among
Democratic voters there.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza says "Edwards will not endorse either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Barack Obama (Ill.) today and has no plans to weigh in for either candidate in the immediate future, according to aides." Marc Ambinder says something similar: "He does not plan to endorse any presidential candidate in the near future, advisers said." I
emphasize the language about Edwards’s "plans" because, if true, it
would arguably contradict my theory, which is that he does indeed
already have a plan — though again, it depends on the definition of
the words "immediate" and "near". Also,who says these statements are true? And for that matter, who says these "aides" know the real story? If my theory  were correct, presumably only Edwards’s and Obama’s innermost circles would know about it.

Ambinder also writes that Edwards’s advisers "say he worries that Obama isn’t ready to be president and that
Hillary Clinton represents too much the old way of doing business…
and both concerns weigh heavily." Interesting.

Back to Cillizza, who writes:

With Edwards out of the race, the Democratic fight becomes a true
two-person affair with Obama and Clinton battling one another for
delegates on Super Tuesday and, in all likelihood, beyond. As we wrote
earlier this week, Edwards’ Super Tuesday strategy of focusing on
states in the South and with significant rural populations seemed to
make Obama’s path rather than Clinton’s more difficult over the coming
weeks.

 

Edwards’ departure also likely means a further coalescing of the
anti-Clinton vote behind Obama — recent votes seemed to show that
process was already well under way. But race could also shape this
unsettled contest, and potentially complicate the formation of an
anti-Clinton coalition.

"While one can plausibly argue that Edwards withdrawal may unite the
anti-Clinton vote, one can also argue that Edwards’ overwhelmingly white
bloc of supporters come loose and might behave much as other white
Democrats have done in the contests after Iowa, not vote for Obama,"
said Charlie Cook, a political analyst and publisher of the Cook
Political Report. "I don’t know which of those arguments will prevail."

Both, says I. Both motivations will be at work. But which one will motivate the greater number of voters? That is the question. Of course, an endorsement could go a long way toward answering it, as Cillizza notes: "Should Edwards decide to endorse a candidate before Feb. 5, that
choice could well have an impact on the way in which the fight for
delegates plays out."

Paul at Powerline writes: "Nearly all Edwards voters are white and I suspect his class-warfare
theme may be attracting some lower income and union voters. Whites, low
income voters, and union members have been part of Hillary Clinton’s
bloc.

[But] If Edwards endorses Obama, that would probably have some impact."

P.P.P.P.S. Politico‘s Ben Smith writes that Edwards’s departure "makes
a long race, and a brokered convention, far, far less likely. … If
it’s one-on-one, the road to an absolute majority is a lot clearer."
Clearer, yes, but still not totally clear. If the "winner" gets less
than ~65% of the pledged delegates, he or she will be dependent on
superdelegates to secure a majority at the convention. The
superdelegates are notoriously fickle, and will want to "back the
winner." If Hillary beats Obama in the pledged delegate count (or, less
likely, vice versa) by something like 60% to 40%, this won’t be much of
an issue, because the superdelegates will back the presumed winner. But
if it’s 51% to 49%, it will still be a brokered convention, because
it’ll be up to the unpleged superdelegates to decide who wins.

26 Responses to “CNN Breaking News”

  1. CORNHUSKERS 94 95 & 97 says:

    Does he endorse Obama if he is negoiating to for the VP slot?

  2. Angrier and Angrier says:

    I heard rumors that Obama is offering Edwards the Attorney General slot. Maybe he is looking for a better deal out of Hillary.

    Regardless, I don’t think Edwards has enough delegates to make a difference by the time of the convention.

  3. Brendan says:

    It’s not about delegates, Angrier. Not in this instance. If Edwards wanted to be a delegate kingmaker, he needed to stay in the race. He’s chosen a different course. This is about votes now, not delegates.

    Edwards’s departure means that a certain number of white male voters, on Super Tuesday and beyond, will now default to Hillary. But a lot of Edwards’s supporters — especially those outside the South — weren’t backing him because of racial politics, they were backing him because of progressive politics and his message of change. Obama desperately needs those voters to make up for — hopefully more than make up for — what he’ll lose among the racial-politics voters.

    Luckily for Obama, he is the natural heir to Edwards in terms of who the “time for a change” voters will be predisposed to support. Edwards’s might be an angrier sort of change than Obama’s, but at least Obama still represents a break from the long-term status quo, which Hillary simply does not, no matter how many times she might claim otherwise.

    However, these Edwards “true believers” may need a little nudge to get them over to Obama’s side. A splashy endorsement, followed by Edwards doing the Ted Kennedy thing and barnstorming the Super Tuesday states for his new buddy Obama, would do the trick.

  4. Angrier and Angrier says:

    If you were a white voter interested in the establishment candidate, you would have been planning to vote for Hillary already. I think most of those pro-Edwards voters will either go to Obama or not vote at all. I only believe a marginal group will support Hillary.

    As for the timing of Edwards’ endorsement, he might be looking for an opportunity to be “splashy” and not just throw Obama an endorsement as part of bowing out. Apparently Obama is planning to go through California with Ted Kennedy. I could see Edwards tagging along on a trip like that.

  5. GoldenBear says:

    Has anybody heard about the chances of Hillary getting the Florida delegates seated at the convention? I have heard offhanded comments about this but nobody has speculated on the chances of this happening.

  6. Brendan Loy says:

    GoldenBear, see my posts below about this, here and here.

    The media doesn’t really “get” this issue at all — they don’t even understand the question, let alone know the answer — so don’t expect much good analysis unless and until it becomes an imminent issue.

    The truth is, I don’t know what the convention rules on this are (or will be), and whatever they are (or will be), I bet they’ll be open to significant interpretation, as nothing like this has come up in recent times. Presumably the (seated) delegates actually get to vote on it at some point.

    The bottom line is, it will be a huge mess if there’s no nominee presumptive (still very possible after Edwards’s depature, as I explain at the tail end of this post) and the Michigan & Florida delegates are important to determining who the nominee will be.

  7. Derek says:

    Once again, we saw a racial divide in the votes in FL.

    White (66%): Clinton 53%, Obama 23%, Edwards 20%

    African-American (19%): Obama 73%, Clinton 25%, Edwards 1%

    Latino (12%): Clinton 59%, Obama 30%, Edwards 8%

    I wonder… if this racial divide continues, it may be the case that more Edwards supporters gravitate toward Clinton, even though Edwards’s message is far closer to Obama’s. There are so many variables in between, of course, but it’s a shocking stat that’s pervaded NV, SC, and now FL.

  8. Angrier and Angrier says:

    If the DNC wants to be sued by the Obama and Edwards campaigns for breach of contract, then yes they can seat the Florida delegates.

  9. Brendan says:

    Yes. On the other hand, Obama did very well among late-deciding voters. I wonder if there are any crosstabs for late-deciding white voters, late deciding black voters, etc. It would be interesting to see if the events of recent days (particularly the Ted Kennedy endorsement) have done anything to blunt the perception of Obama as the “black candidate.”

    Also, while I haven’t looked at the details of Rasmusseun’s Connecticut poll showing a 40%-40% tie, I have to believe that Obama isn’t getting his support mostly from black potential voters. Connecticut isn’t quite as lily-white as, say, New Hampshire, but it’s not exactly South Carolina, either. :)

    But of course, that’s just a poll, not an election. (You could make the case that Florida’s primary was also, in a certain sense, “not an election,” but that’s a different story.) We’ll know soon enough. Super Duper Pooper Scooper Tuesday will tell the tale.

  10. Dave says:

    I haven’t really followed the Democratic race closely enough to guess how Edwards’ withdrawal and potential endorsement of Obama would impact the race. Oddly, though, it seems like all of the endorsements Obama is racking up – and the massive rock-star support he inspires at rallies and public appearances – isn’t translating (yet) in the polls. RCP still posts Hillary to a 9-point lead nationally, and 10+ point leads in the Super Tuesday races RCP is covering.

    FWIW, I’m a big McCain supporter; but even though I think McCain would match up better against Hillary, I do hope Obama comes out with the Democratic nomination. It would (1) create a better, more positive choice for the nation in November, and (2) would definitively end the Clinton era of American politics, sans vindication or validation.

    That said, however, my intuition is that an Edwards endorsement really won’t help Obama that much. Of course, it’s too small to generalize, but the Edwards supporters I encountered in NH were disproportionately lower middle class, unsophisticated white males; their reasons for opposing Obama were, shall we say, less than tactful. Exit polls have identified this demographic in SC and Florida as well.

    Every time I see Obama on TV, it seems like he’s leading a revival, speaking to rabidly enthusiastic crowds much larger than what you see with other candidates, from either party. He also has a huge groundswell of support among the college kids and law school students I spend most of my time with.

    Hillary’s supporters, though, have 3 things Obama’s cadre of college kids and law students don’t: money, a proclivity toward dishonest politics, and the grass-roots organization to get folks out to vote.

    Because of this, I don’t know how Obama’s mass-market appeal translates into votes… and I think that the road is longer for him than the press makes it appear.

  11. Brendan says:

    Dave, I think that much of what you say is, sadly, true. However, regarding the polls, it should be noted that only two of the RCP individual-state polls are relevant to the question of whether Obama’s post-S.C. momentum and high-profile endorsements are translating into votes.

    One of them, in Oklahoma, showed Obama in third place behind Edwards — pretty meaningless now. We’ll have to wait for another OK poll to assess the actual state of that race, now that Edwards is gone. (Edwards almost won OK in 2004, finishing just a hair behind Clark.)

    The other poll, in Connecticut — hardly a bastion of black voters — showed Obama suddenly tying Clinton 40-40 after trailing by double digits in other polls, as recently as 10 days ago. And this was post-South Carolina but pre-Ted Kennedy.

    All the other polls showing Clinton with “10+ point leads in the Super Tuesday races RCP is covering” are from before this recent surge of Obama-mentum started. So the jury is still out.

    On the other hand, the national tracking polls by Rasmussen and Gallup do indeed support what you’re saying; Obama has made only mild gains in the latter, and has actually lost a bit of ground in the former, since South Carolina.

  12. yea says:

    Brendan,

    I think your assumption that Edwards is going to endorse Obama is not necessarily accurate. Edwards’ Obama love came exactly at the most convenient time for Edwards, when Hillary’s campaign was in perceived free for all. If the NH results trended +10 for obama in relation to the polls instead of +10 for hillary, the Obama landslide might’ve crushed Hillary’s relistic nomination chances and perhaps given Edwards a chance in a 2 person race.

    Edwards very well might end up endorsing Obama, but I think Edwards knows that despite any momentum Obama is still a longshot at best to actually defeat Hillary, and an endorsement from Edwards to Hillary would be a nail in the coffin for Edwards. Edwards endorsing Obama when Obama doest win the nomination does nothing for him.

    Edwards endorsing Hillary would (fairly or not) further portray Obama as a black candidate and make it extremely hard to him to overcome the Clinton machine. I think Edwards would be able to get a good position or whatever he wants from the Hillary campaign for an endorsement as well.

    It would be cool if Edwards really liked Obama and believed he was the better candidate and endorsed him for that reason, but im not sure its going to go down like that. I think Edwards is a good man, but he also has to look out for John Edwards. Regardless of what Edwards chooses, an endorsement after super tuesday for hillary wouldn’t mean much and i doubt it would get him much clout, so things will happened sooner as opposed to late. exciting stuff going on here, hope some of my ramblings have some value.

  13. yea says:

    also in case anyone cares, obama’s nomination chances on intrade went from about 36.5% to 38% after edwards dropped out. say what you want about the predictive power of the market, but mccain started surging yesterday long before public data was released. i believe i noted this mccain jump in a comment yesterday.

  14. Angrier and Angrier says:

    McCain locked the nomination the minute Mike Huckabee started talking about using the Bible to reshape the Constitution and alienated normal people.

    Huckabee was the only real competition for McCain since 1) Romney is a Mormon and Evangelicals simply won’t vote for him, 2) Giuliani was a pro-choice, pro-gay philanderer and Evangelicals simply won’t vote for him, 3) Fred Thompson was too damn lazy and boring to be a factor.

    The Evangelicals don’t love McCain and won’t turn out in large numbers to support him in the General Election. But at least they don’t see him as a member of a cult or Bill Clinton, Part II like they do Romney and Giuliani.

  15. Brendan Loy says:

    Interesting thoughts, yea. Definitely of value. :)

    Angrier, you write, “Romney is a Mormon and Evangelicals simply won’t vote for him.” But this is demonstrably untrue, at last according to Michigan exit polls. One of the most striking results on Yooper Tuesday was that Romney won the Evangelical vote, and in a state that Huckabee had campaigned heavily in. Admittedly, he won it with a plurality, not a majority, but he did beat both Huckabee and McCain. So while there are undoubtedly some Evangelicals who “simply won’t vote for” for a Mormon, just as there are some whites who simply won’t vote for Obama because he’s black, you can’t say as a broad sweeping generalization that none of them will.

  16. Brendan Loy says:

    P.S. I recognize that you might argue that Michigan Evangelicals aren’t exactly the same thing as, say, Alabama Evangelicals. And you might be right about that. But they did identify themselves as Evangelicals; presumably they weren’t just kidding. The main difference, it seems to me, is simply that there are more Evangelicals in the South, not that the ones in the North are, um, less evangelical, if you will, than their southern counterparts. Anyway, again, my problem is with your generalization; it may mask an underlying truth, but you shouldn’t state it in such absolute terms.

  17. Derek says:

    I’ve been a little reluctant to cite Rasmussen this time around. They’ve consistently given Romney higher and McCain lower marks than most of the rest of the polls (though their Dem numbers have been better), and they’ve paid the penalty in terms of the actual results.

    But looking at some others…

    CA-SUSA: white 43-41 Clinton, black 61-25 Obama, Hispanic 65-28 Clinton

    OK-SUSA (smaller minority samples, to be sure): white 46-14 Clinton (Edwards 32), black 60-32 Obama, Hispanic 53-36 Clinton

    As for Kennedy… the exit polls were bizarre. For “importance of Kennedy endorsement,” the responses were as follows:

    Very important (26%): 31 Clinton, 59 Obama

    Important (24%): 49 Clinton, 34 Obama

    Not too important (20%): 57 Clinton, 24 Obama

    Not at all important (27%): 58 Clinton, 20 Obama

    Even if you were among the 1/4 of voters calling it “very important,” they were still <60% for Obama. And an overwhelming majority of "imporant" voters still didn't pick Obama. Is Kennedy a LIABILITY to a lot of closed-primary Dems? A lot of Republicans would say so, but would Democrats, especially in a closed primary?

  18. Angrier and Angrier says:

    I guess it depends on who you define as “Evangelical.” Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Pentacostal types WON’T vote for Romney. Evangelicals who are actually members of mainline churches might. But I don’t consider them true Evangelicals as they have been defined by the likes of Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Jerry Falwell.

  19. Brendan Loy says:

    Very interesting, Derek.

    yea, can I assume that you meant to say that “an endorsement from Edwards to Hillary would be a nail in the coffin for Obama,” rather than a “nail in the coffin for Edwards”? I ask because I may quote a portion of your comment on the blog at some point, so I just want to be sure I understand you correctly. :)

  20. Ken says:

    Just heard the tail end of Edwards speech…he says he is “suspending” his campaign…not ending it. Politick-speak so that his delegates are not actually released at this point and he can also accept new delegates which he could somehow get in later primaries where his name will remain on the ballot. I suspect he will not formally withdraw until he decides to endorse a candidate. Also he noted that both Clinton and Obama had agreed to make poverty issues central to both their campaigns and ultimately their presidencies. Perhaps he wants to wait and see how (and whether) Obama and Clinton actually do this before he decides whom to endorse.

  21. yea says:

    Brendan,

    yep you got it right, apologies for the conclusion.

  22. Brendan Loy says:

    Perhaps he wants to wait and see how (and whether) Obama and Clinton actually do this before he decides whom to endorse.

    Sounds great in principle, but as a practical matter, events are going to move very fast in this campaign; there’s no time to sit back and wait to see who will follow through on a pledge. If he waits, by the time he makes an endorsement, it won’t matter to the candidate he’s endorsing. Now — before the Feb. 5 national primary — is the one moment when he has maximum leverage. (What was it Jack Sparrow said about the “opportune moment”?)

    Well, unless there’s a brokered convention and it’s so close that his small handful of delegates (a whopping 26 pledged delegates out of 4,409 total) are enough to make the difference — then he’d have more leverage — but that’s pretty unlikely. And if he wants to do that, why “suspend” his campaign now, thus signaling to his supporters on February 5 that they’d be wasting their vote on him (which in turn means he’ll get fewer delegates than he could have)? Argh. I don’t get it.

  23. Brian Foster says:

    Money.

    Although I would think Edwards could self-fund at least through Tuesday, so that alone probably doesn’t explain the timing.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that, as someone above said, Edwards has to think of himself first. He’s still relatively young and determined. Align himself with the wrong candidate now, and he may hinder his own chances at the nomination in ’12 or ’16. He may be better off waiting until the nominee is secured before making any public declarations, or better yet, not making any public declarations at all, until or unless asked to join the ticket or Cabinet, in order to ensure that his political future — such as it may be — remains his, rather than being subrogated to Barack’s or Hillary’s.

  24. Ken says:

    Maybe he will wait until after the debate on Thursday night. Then he can say that after weighing what the two had to say that he is endorsing _______ because he believes that candidate best supports the principles he believes in.

  25. Angrier and Angrier says:

    Edwards endorsing Hillary would be a nail in the coffin for Edwards because it would be obvious to everyone all of his talk about “change” would just be a bunch of rhetorical bullshit.

  26. Brendan Loy says:

    Ken, that would go along nicely with my theory of a Friday-morning announcement as a firewall against possible Hillary momentum from the debate.

    Er, assuming the _______ is Obama, that is. :)