Washington Prowler

Southern Revival

A lameduck Democrat holds on. Plus: Guess who's coming to dinner?

By 10.7.03

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A CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT
New polling numbers coming out of South Carolina indicate that Sen. John Edwards' plan for making that state his do-or-die locale might be a winning strategy. That can only spell bad news for Edwards' competitors, especially Rep. Dick Gephardt. Almost certainly Edwards' new numbers helped push Sen. Bob Graham to announce on Monday that he was cutting short his presidential bid.

The latest poll numbers for the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary show Edwards at the front of the pack, with an eight point lead over Howie Dean and double digit lead over Sen. Joe Lieberman and retired Gen. Wesley Clark. The six other competitors are far back, and Graham barely made it onto the radar screen.

"We've been saying for months that South Carolina was our baby," says an Edwards staffer in North Carolina. "This is the latest to show we're on the right track."

Edwards has continued to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, but after initially splurging in the Iowa in hopes of finishing in the top three there, he pulled back several months ago to focus on his so-called "Southern strategy." That would entail winning South Carolina, the biggest primary after New Hampshire, knocking a few competitors out of the race and surviving deep into the Democratic primary season so that he has a shot at winning at least the vice presidential nomination.

Key to Edwards' plan was taking out fellow southerner Graham, who when he entered the race appeared to have an edge on the younger Senate colleague, but turned out to be an utter failure on the campaign trail.

"Graham made us all nervous, sure," says the Edwards operative. "But man were we wrong. Our overestimation of him was on a scale of overestimating the threat of Iraq."

Graham, who entered the nominating race late, but who promised a competitive run thanks to his fundraising prowess in the Sunshine State and throughout the South, failed to raise mega-money and performed poorly on the stump. In stepping out of the race, he can focus his energies on a Senate re-election bid. As reported here, Senate colleagues have been pressuring Graham for some time to abandon his flailing presidential bid and to focus instead on holding on to his much needed Florida Senate seat. However, in making his announcement on Monday, Graham said he had not yet decided whether to seek reelection or retire.

Edwards, meanwhile, should he hold his lead in South Carolina, might be the man to knock Gephardt out of the race. South Carolina was viewed as a critical state for the former House Democratic leader, particularly if he struggled in Iowa and failed to make the top tier in New Hampshire.

Gephardt was in South Carolina yesterday campaigning and pushing his pro-union label. "Everyone expects us to win in Iowa," says a Gephardt staffer in the Midwest. "But we have to have a strong showing in one of the early primaries. South Carolina would be the one to give us some momentum in to the next phase of the campaign. If we fail there, we probably don't make it."

Gephardt had to be troubled by the latest numbers that show him in low single digits behind Clark and Lieberman. He'd be even more depressed if he saw some of Edwards' internal polling that showed him trailing even Graham. In that poll, Edwards only serious competition in the Palmetto State was Clark.

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?
Every Democratic campaign had someone spinning and pointing to the announcement by the Iowa state Democratic Party on Monday that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would be emceeing the Jefferson Jackson Dinner there in November.

Iowa Democratic leaders were telling the campaigns that Clinton confirmed her role over the weekend, and had indicated she would not have accepted the offer to sit on the stage with the other candidates were she interested in entering the primary run for 2004.

Clinton may not be interested in the challenging for the top of the ticket, but several campaigns are already looking at the prospects of having her on the bottom of the ticket in 2004. Democratic pollsters in Washington have been telling associates that several presidential campaigns have been inquiring about including Clinton's name in polling for vice presidential candidates.

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