John Edwards is a walking contradiction. He supports the working man but pays as much for a haircut as some low-income workers earn in a week. He wants predatory lending protections for the poor. Yet he has worked for and invested in a hedge fund that foreclosed on subprime mortgage holders -- most recently noted in Iowa. So is he a principled populist interested in the plight of the common man or just an opportunist in search of a political strategy?
Edwards' decision yesterday to accept public financing and criticize his opponents for not doing the same -- a tactic he rejected in the spring -- tells me that he's an opportunist hoping to get our votes.
According to the
Center for Responsive Politics, the 2008 presidential campaign will easily surpass prior election spending. The center predicts that primary spending alone will exceed $500 million. That's a huge amount of cash rolling in to campaigns, with the Democrats holding a
solid lead over Republicans.
All of the top campaigns -- Edwards' included -- began with high-dollar goals that would not require public financing. His campaign raised $23 million through the second quarter ($14 million in the first and $9 million in the second) and rumors suggest he'll have raised $7 million in the third quarter. But the funding has tapered off each quarter. At this rate, the campaign won't reach its $40 million goal before heading into the Iowa caucus.
Things haven't been much better for Edwards in the polls. In
national polls, Edwards has trailed Sens. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D., Ill.). Even Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to the Edwards campaign, has said of late about Clinton: "She has sort of pulled away."
State polls in
New Hampshire are a bad sign, as well. Edwards is relying heavily on Iowa to catapult him to success. But Edwards has seen recent leads in Iowa dwindle, and he now trails Clinton and Obama. New Hampshire proves a problem, too. Edwards has fallen into a statistical tie with Bill Richardson and may fall out of the top tier of candidates there.
Accepting public financing can burden a campaign. Complying with the public matching system requires additional paperwork and reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission. Furthermore, candidates have spending limits for individual states. The
limit in Iowa, for example, is $1,486,433 as of 2007. These limits could prove a problem for Edwards, who's spent a fair amount in Iowa already.
I think Edwards' move to public financing is more about desperation than anything else. He's tried hard to differentiate himself from Clinton and Obama. Time and again in debates, Edwards has criticized them for not doing more in the Senate to stop the war in Iraq.
I find this hypocritical. Edwards retired from the Senate after just one term, a good portion of which was spent on the 2004 presidential election rather than serving North Carolina. Even worse, Edwards made the same votes as his fellow Democrats while he was in the Senate -- most notably the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.
Aside from a hindsight apology, why should we acknowledge any difference? It's easy for an outsider to criticize those who make the difficult decisions. Maybe Edwards should have stayed in the Senate to pass better public finance legislation.
If Edwards had been a principled politician, he would have started out by endorsing public financing and followed it. Now that his funding and poll numbers are flagging, it's hypocritical to accept public financing and attack his opponents for not doing the same.