IN 2004, when John Edwards nearly beat John Kerry in Wisconsin, he declared, "Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear."
In 2008, he may be getting close again.
He has run in Iowa and knows the caucus system. He has worked rural counties, where a little-reported study revealed that last time it took only 22 caucus-goers to win a delegate, compared with 80 in urban counties.
He's about to get juiced with $750,000 in TV ads from an "independent" group run by his former campaign manager.
Is the universe expanding? According to a shrewd observer, a big chunk of Dick Gephardt's 2004 trade union support has gone to Edwards. Adding what he already had gives him a solid share of the 122,000 people who caucused last time.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are trying hard to expand the caucus universe. If they succeed in a big way, Edwards will probably finish third. But if turnout doesn't grow much, Edwards could finish first or second.
Second choice. Caucus-goers whose candidates don't get 15 percent at a given caucus can switch on a subsequent ballot to a "viable" candidate. A recent poll found Edwards is much more likely (42 percent) to be the second choice of those whose candidate didn't make the cut than Obama (31 percent) or Clinton (27 percent).
The evolution of Hillary. Hillary Clinton launched her campaign with a just-us-girls style chat on the Internet. Then she got tough on anti-American dictators. Then she was practically a member of her husband's cabinet, racking up loads of frequent-flyer miles. Then a change agent. Then warm and likeable.
Her best message: You don't create change by hoping for it (Obama) or by demanding it (Edwards). You work for it (her).
Bill saves Hillary. Bill Clinton's charm offensive won his wife the endorsement of Iowa's Des Moines Register. The
Gambling on youth. Bill Clinton told TV host Charlie Rose that Obama's youth makes him a "roll of the dice." Clinton said he decided not to run himself in 1988 because he was too young; so he waited four years. When he ran in 1992, Clinton was 46. Obama is 46.
Obama's message went from "I'm Gandhi" to "Hillary's too cautious" to "I'm for hope and unity" to "Oprah loves me." He's made "change" the coin of the realm and supported it with his story: son of a black African father and a white mother, a community organizer with a silver-spoon education. He can electrify a crowd and rarely speaks Washingtonese. He's written that he did a little "blow" as a teenager.
Edwards's message went from ending poverty to ending Hillary to "you gotta be kidding." You think we're going to keep US jobs at home by tinkering with NAFTA? You gotta be kidding. You think we'll get universal healthcare by sitting down with insurance and drug companies? YGBK.
He's urging Iowans to "rise up" against the greedy, immoral corporations that own our government. (Barney Frank once said Congress could be rented but not owned.) Edwards's anti-corporate rhetoric gets a rise out of many Democratic liberals but scares many who work for corporations.
Iowa's impact on N.H. Iowa is critical for Edwards. Win or lose, Hillary will be happy to slip the posse of hostile male voters in Iowa and head for the hills of New Hampshire. Obama will also have life after Iowa.
With only five days between the contests, if Edwards wins Iowa, he may not have enough time to win New Hampshire, but he could be strong enough to split the anti-Hillary vote. If Hillary can't win Iowa, she'd rather have Edwards take it - he's nowhere in New Hampshire.
The bear in the woods. Two hikers are out in the woods when they encounter a bear. They immediately take off and the bear gives chase. Suddenly one hiker stops and pulls a pair of sneakers out of his backpack and starts putting them on. His friend says, "What are you doing that for? You can't outrun a bear." The newly shod hiker says, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you." Edwards wins Iowa if he outruns either Clinton or Obama.
Dan Payne is a Boston-area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country.