Let me start by admitting that John Edwards is not the sort of candidate I would necessarily consider voting for in a presidential contest. I don’t dislike him. I just don’t care for his political views.
I say that to emphasize that I never allow my personal feelings or opinions to influence my analysis of our polling.
A second example of our work was the poll we conducted in Florida just prior to the recent CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate in that state. It was the first poll I know of that showed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee moving into second place among GOP candidates in any state.
I thought we would be butchered by the press for showing this sea change in the presidential sweepstakes. But this big change was a real one. And after the debate — right after two more of our polls showed that both Floridians and Iowans thought Huckabee was the winner — Huckabee indeed began his rapid ascent across the country.
Now we have put our neck out even further with a poll earlier in the week that showed Edwards is virtually tied with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama among highly likely participants in the Iowa Democratic caucus.
Even more significant, Edwards is the second choice of those who support the other Democratic candidates, and by a fairly strong plurality.
That’s important in the Iowa Democratic caucus system. If the candidate you vote for doesn’t get at least 15 percent of the vote, you must then choose from among those candidates that did get at least 15 percent.
Edwards’ lead on that "second ballot" could make him a real threat in what so far has been characterized as a fight between Clinton and Obama.
If Edwards were to win in Iowa, then the Democratic nomination process could start to unravel. New Hampshire voters love to vote in ways contrary to what might be expected. They might just decide to join with Edwards as the dark horse candidate.
And a more competitive Edwards would likely cost Clinton in South Carolina, where African-Americans make up nearly 50 percent of the Democratic vote. Blacks there are starting to side with Obama, with Clinton and Edwards battling for the white vote.
It could be that, much like the suddenly struggling Rudy Giuliani for the Republicans, Clinton’s only shot at turning the race around is Florida. Clinton has consistently led in the polls in Florida, and it might be hard for Edwards to overtake her in the Sunshine State.
However, Florida’s biggest Democratic power is no longer the teachers unions, but the association that represents the state’s trial lawyers. And there is no mistaking that trial lawyers throughout the nation are supporting one of their own — Edwards. If Edwards started to gain real momentum in the Democratic race, and if the Florida Trial Bar threw its considerable weight behind him in that state, Edwards might have a shot at overtaking Clinton.
That would put him in a sweet position going into the Feb. 5 quasi-national primary, a.k.a. Tsunami Tuesday.
Admittedly, polling in Iowa this year is very tough. And our poll is the only one we’ve seen that shows Edwards even close to Obama and Clinton. But when someone like Iowa’s top political writer, David Yepsen, writes that he believes Edwards might pull off a shocking victory there, it’s tough not to believe that the poll is, at minimum, a sign that Edwards is more of a factor in Iowa than was believed just a week ago.
What would it mean to a potential GOP nominee if Edwards actually won the Democratic presidential nomination?
It might help the Republican nominee’s chances. Edwards is by far the most liberal of the three major Democratic candidates. His passionate leftist positions might make Huckabee or Mitt Romney appear to be the moderate in the race. And Giuliani would be in safe territory with both conservatives and moderates were he to face Edwards.
Remember, a chief knock against Romney is that he’s too plastic, too fake. But by contrast with Edwards, Romney looks like a model of sincerity.
If the rap on Huckabee is that his views are too extreme, Edwards’ views would make him seem like a centrist.
And if the youthful-looking and handsome Edwards matches up against Giuliani, the former New York City mayor would suddenly look like his opponent’s wise and experienced father.
In other words, a nominated Edwards could give the GOP a shot at keeping the White House.
If Clinton survives all of her baggage and all the potential bad news from early caucuses and primaries, and goes on to win the Democratic nomination, it’s my guess that she would defeat any of the major GOP candidates.
If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, all bets are off as to one general election outcome or the other.
But if it’s Edwards, and the GOP can throw in a little bit of luck, they might survive George W. Bush and cling to the presidency for another four years.